For the last five years Robbie has been living in exile. He left behind the ďold countryĒ 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 doesnít 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 donít happen in these secular times, do they?
Journal Entry 4: Four Telephone Conversations
Wednesday 4th July 2001 (Part 2)
One more line and Iím totally buzzing: got that king of the world feeling, like Iím a real artist rather than a piss artist. The coke filling my head full of megalomaniac dreams, like Iím, going to be the 21st centuryís Picasso. Doesnít matter that I was kicked out of art school: that Iíve never exhibited; never shown anybody my work; only ever take a notion to paint about once a month (and even then, only when Iím out of my face). Doesnít matter one jot. Iím a genius. Look at these sketchbooks! Nothing but raw energy, blazing colour, sheer originality. Iím so fucking talented I want to weep.
This is what the coke tells me: the little coke monster in my head, not whispering, but yelling.
Another part of me, standing back, quietly critical, wondering how, in the light of so much experience, Iím stupid enough to fall into the same old loop again. The critical voice that even the coke cannot entirely obliterate. The voice that tells me Iím a talentless, deluded waste of space: a washed up junkie coasting on a wasteland of dreams.
This voice that I am never rid of is reduced to the most faint of whispers. I barely hear it say ďhuh, you think she wants to hear from you again?Ē as I pick up the phone.
Me: Hi, Catherine?
Me: Itís me, Robbie, the guy you met at the Paul Van Dyk night, remember? Fucking brilliant night, wasnít it, eh? Totally storming! Listen, I was wondering...
Catherine: I canít talk right now...
Me: If Iíve called you at a bad time (ďSheís with someone elseĒ says the small voice in my head)
Catherine: Iím at work
Me: At seven oíclock?
Catherine: Iíll call you back later, okay? (sounding too abrupt for my liking)
Me: (Disappointed), yes, sure, if thatís more... (the line goes dead)
2nd Conversation (two minutes later)
Me: Hi, I never got a chance to give you my number.
Catherine: You donít need to, it comes up automatically on my mobile.
Me: Wow! Really? Thatís fantastic. Technologyís amazing isnít it? (struggling). Listen, I just wanted to say...
Catherine: Look, Iím sorry, I really canít talk right now.
Me: Okay, Iíll call you in an hour, if youíll be finished then. Is that alright?
Catherine: Yes, an hour, maybe (sounding doubtful), fine, thatís fine. (Line goes dead).
I put the phone down and the wee small critical voice gets just that little bit louder. It goes off on a monologue. ďSee? Sheís just not interested. Canít you take a hint? I suppose you still think you gave her the fuck of a lifetime, eh? Well, let me tell you this: youíre a washed up, useless junkie cunt; and she faked it, just to get you to finish off. She only went home with you because she was out of her tits. Sheíd have gone home with anyone that night, anyone! All she wanted was a little TLC; and you couldnít even give her that.Ē
Another line and Iím still not quite fine. The ghost of the wee, small voice witters on in the background. I put the stereo on, up loud: one of my favourite mixes. Seb Fontaine giving it up big time with some Dutch Trance. I dance round the room like a spastic on speed, throwing my arms around the room, kicking my legs all over the place. I dance until my heart is pounding and the sweat is flowing; and I only stop because I feel like Iím going to take a whitey.
An hour and two more lines later and Iím sitting at the telephone, punching in Catherineís number. Despite the rush of chemicals going through my brain, Iím nervous as hell
Me: Hi, are you out of work yet?
Catherine: Yes, Iím on the bus (restrained).
Me: Oh good. I hung on an hour. Wasnít sure if youíd be finished or not. I mean I donít want to hassle you or anything, but Iíve got something to say that wonít wait. That is, Iíve got a proposal...
Catherine: Eh? What are you talking about?
Me: (Sensing, even through the coke haze, that all is not going to plan) Sorry, Iím not thinking straight. Truth is, Iím pretty coked up...
Catherine: Listen, nowís not a good time to talk. Iíll call you back when I get home. Promise...
The phone goes dead; and with it, the silence of white noise. I feel my head buzzing with it, like Iím going to pass out. I slump down into that rarely experienced wired-depression. The strung out tension of being simultaneously high and low. Itís a tight rope walk, with the gaping void below. One false step and thatís it.
The only thing to do is to do nothing. I know this from grim experience. The armchair, the television and a big glass of Buckfast wine are the only solution.
I watch a holiday programme and let myself be transported to foreign shores. Imagine myself in the foothills of the Himalayas, wandering through forests and chancing upon gilded Buddhist temples. Imagine feeling the serenity I see on these old monksí faces. Imagine their certainty.
But then, Iím taken to the hedonistic nirvana of Ibiza; and after that to the plastic paradise of Disneyland and Florida.
The night draws in slowly, through a thick syrup of soap operas, hospital dramas, news, chat shows, adverts... and then, at half past ten, the telephone rings. My heart jumps, thinking, briefly, that it is Catherine; and then it settles, knowing fine that Iíll never hear from her again.
Me: Oh? I didnít expect you to phone back. I thought Iíd blown it, thought youíd got the hump with me. I can be a bit O.T.T. when Iím coked up.
Catherine: Aye, well it was a bit weird, but I guess thatís because I was in work mode. You caught me at a particularly bad time. I was actually in the middle of an interview.
Catherine: Aye, Iím a personnel officer. Didnít I tell you?
Catherine: You sound surprised.
Me: Well, the state you were in the other night, I didnít think youíd be the professional type.
Catherine: Ah well, there you go, proof positive you can never judge a book by its cover. So, what about you?
Me: What about me?
Catherine: What do you do?
Me: Well, Iím kind of a man of leisure...
Catherine: What? You on the dole?
Me: No, no, Iíve never taken a penny from the government. I suppose you could say Iím retired.
Catherine: At your age?
Me: You donít know what age I am.
Catherine: Okay, what age are you?
Me: Iím as old as the hills and as young as the morning sun.
Catherine: Thirty one?
Catherine: Twenty eight??
Me: I wish.
Catherine: Well, what age?
Me: Forty one.
Catherine: Fuck off!
Catherine: Well, itís still too young to be retired.
Me: Aye well, I used to have a business and it went really well for a while. Then I packed it up and Iíve been living on my ill-gotten gains since then. Now, Iím trying to be an artist, pretty much in the spirit of Paul Gaugin, which is kind of why Iím phoning you.
Catherine: How díyou mean?
Me: Iíd like you to model for me.
Me: Iím doing a painting right now, and I want you to model for it.
Catherine: Oh? And there I was thinking you were calling me because you wanted to see me again (sounding all mock offended).
Me: Well... maybe I would, if I thought you might be interested...
Catherine: Have you still got some coke left?
Me: Aye, a fair bit, why?
Catherine: Well, Iíd be up for modelling for you tonight if you wanted; and who knows, maybe if you ply me with enough drugs I might just model for you naked.
Me: Iíd like that.
Catherine: Iíll see you in half an hour then. Iím on my way round right now.