A Rake’s Progress in One or Two Easy Stages: Part One
As a result of a rather rash act on my behalf, many years ago, I was diagnosed as being Schizophrenic. Of course that worried me, and I wondered what would be the result if it were true. I am vaguely bi-polar as you know, but as that term had not been invented all those years ago, Schizophrenia seemed like a good shot in the dark.
Let me explain
One evening in late Summer, I found I was at a loose end and in need of something to occupy my time. I sought the company of George de Lancy de Somerville de Smith de Ceased de Brown de Tergent. Well, why not?
If you have read any of my earlier works, you will be aware that George de Lancy de Somerville de Smith de Ceased de Brown de Tergent was a friend of mine in Perth, West Australia.
He was a young man of many interesting and admirable qualities, most of which evade me at the present moment, but he had a capacity to entertain, and that was a quality I craved at that specific moment. Normally I would have thought better of this, and would have found another person to share my time with, but George was very entertaining and could make me laugh.
And laugher was what I needed most at that particular time. He was also within easy arm’s reach. George lived on the other side of Mount Street; opposite to my mother’s flat.
On this particular evening, I had had an argument with my mother, over some trivial matter, and as a result had stormed out in a childish manner, having shouted at her and brought her to tears.
I don’t know why we argued… or, more correctly, why I argued with her. She was the loveliest person and was adored by many of my friends. In fact, there were many of those individuals who, I suspect, put up with me and my selfish ways so that they could stay in touch with my mother. I was told on more than on occasion that they would have preferred to have her company of an evening, even if they were out and about, doing the things that those in their early twenties would be doing, rather than to put up with me and my childish ways.
My mother was known for, not only being fun to be with, a great conversationalist, and a person with a very open mind, but also she was known for her kindness and compassion.
One example was her care and empathy for a friend of mine, Lorna, who had suffered from great depression, and had, in desperation, gone to my mother to cry her soul out to her and to confess to wanting to commit suicide.
My mother had listened for hours; had encouraged and shown Lorna great love and understanding; had also encouraged her to continue with her painting, an art in which Lorna was extremely talented. And to reassure Lorna that she would always be available to her to go to and be able to listen and advise, she had persuaded the girl to entrust the sleeping pills to her. The sleeping pills with which she had planned to end her life. My mother kept them in the bathroom cabinet at her flat, rather than let Lorna keep them in her own flat, where they might become a temptation and a danger to her.
I knew all this, naturally and knew my mother to be an exceptionally wonderful woman, so I didn’t feel proud of my actions in arguing with her, but childish pride, another form of pride; differing from the former, had prevented me from apologising to her and so I was “out and about” with time weighing heavily on my hands and, as I have said earlier, at a loose end.
George and I, together or separately, realising that alcohol in one form or another would oil the wheels of humour, repaired to the Cocktail Lounge of the Savoy Hotel, in Hay Street, where he drank a few Gins and Tonic and I acquainted myself with a newly acquired love, the Daiquiri… several Daiquiris, in fact.
I had been fascinated by the idea of the Daiquiri being a favourite of characters in the plays and novel of Tennessee Williams, and thought I would honour the man’s talent as a writer, by encouraging several of those cocktails to slip down my willing throat. This was all done in an attempt to show my appreciation of Art, of course. After all, if it was good enough for Sebastian and Violet Venable to sip, then it certainly was good enough for me.
After a while we went downstairs to the ‘Men Only Bar’ where we drank Swan lagers until the barman asked us to leave, as George was maintaining that several of the other patrons looked more like ladies of the night and didn’t fit strictly into the category of ‘Men Only’.
Thessalonia Kiev and Michael step on stage
Finding ourselves back at ground level and in Hay Street, we walked towards West Perth, and somehow found ourselves in ‘The Ulster Tavern’ where we struck up a friendship with a couple of dancers from Madame Barisloff’s Ballet School.
We introduced ourselves.
“I’m Michael,” stated the boy, shaking our hands.
“And I’m Thessalonia Kiev,” continued the girl.
“Jenny Millard” corrected Michael, and we were soon friends.
George decided there and then that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with the female Ballet Dancer, Thessalonia Kiev, or Jenny Millard as Michael referred to her, and after one or two drinks, or maybe more, George, Thessalonia and Michael left together; George, tearfully telling me that he would never forget me and that I was the best friend that he had ever had. He bade me a fond and very lachrymose Goodbye, and disappeared into the night with his two new friends.
Left to my own devices, I decided that I would go and say Good night to my father and was walking up Hay Street towards West Perth, when a car drew up beside me.
George jumped out of the car, and wrapping his arms around me, told me at length how he forgave me for changing his basic skin tones from pallid to bright orange earlier in the year. He told me between sobs of gratitude how the afternoon he had spent almost completely submerged in a bath full of permanganate of potash laced water was possibly one of the happiest afternoons of his life. Then he got back into the car and departed again.
His two new friends, the ballet dancing couple, waved sweetly as the car drove off, blowing kisses and crying out, “Good night, Sweet Prince” to me.
So I wandered along Hay Street in the general direction of West Perth. There are lovely houses and flats in the area, and I knew that my father and his wife lived in one of the flats, but a combination of several daiquiris and Swan lagers had drawn a rather opaque veil over my mind and I wandered around for a while wondering where my father lived, and wondering even more whether I would ever reach a familiar building.
I knew that he lived in Ord Street. Or was it Outram Street? But I was beginning to give up hope of ever saying “Goodnight” to him, when my eyes opened wide to reveal; not my father’s flat, but two large stone pillars, iron gates, a gravel path, and at the end of the gravel path, two large half-glazed doors, showing, within, a rather interesting marble staircase, leading up to the first floor of a really lovely building, blazing with lights, and completely empty of a living soul.
The light drew me like a wayward moth and I pushed open one of the large gates, walked rather unsteadily up the gravel path and reaching the half-glazed doors, opened one.
Absolute silence. The place was deserted.
Then, as I watched, a door to the right, at the top of the stairs, opened and a young girl of about fifteen came through and walked along the other side of a balustrade, making towards a door on the opposite side. She was wearing a dressing gown, and carrying a towel and toothbrush. She hadn’t noticed me standing at the bottom of the stairs.
“Wwor-r-r-r!!!!” I said, in a voice that was meant to carry.
The girl looked down from her place at the top of the stairs.
“Wwor-r-r-r!!!!” I said again... well not exactly said, but repeated in a loud carrying voice.
It had the desire effect. The girl shrieked. I don’t think she was at all frightened, but she just thought she should join in.
“Shrieeek!” went the girl again.
By now several girls, also in dressing gowns and carrying towels and tooth brushes, appeared at the top of the stairs. Several girls also appeared out of the door to the right, and were looking over the balcony to see what or who was making all the noise.
“Wwor-r-r-r!!!! Wwor-r-r-r!!!!” I repeated. And suddenly pandemonium broke out. Girls were shrieking and laughing and several more were trying to discover who I was.
It was obvious that I had entered a house belonging to one of the girls’ boarding schools that are dotted around Perth and its suburbs. Decent middle class schools catering, in part, for the female children of the farmers and out of town families of West Australia.
But decent middle classed school girls or not, they and I were having a whale of a time. And so was I.
Each time I uttered the drunken “Wwor-r-r-r!!!!” they responded in good heart with shrieks and laughter.
And each time I uttered a “Wwor-r-r-r!!!!” I ascended a couple of the marble steps, getting closer to the excited and laughing girls.
How long this would have gone on, I have no idea, but suddenly there appeared, from a side door at the bottom of the stairs, a short, fat, Nun. She appeared to be quite cross.
The Nun waved her hands at me as one would at a naughty chicken, and whether she thought I was a chicken or not, she addressed me as such.
“Shoo!” she cried, waving her hands and a white cloth that she held in her right. “Shoo! You naught boy. Go away or I’ll call the police.”
But unlike the chicken she assumed me to be, I didn’t Shoo, but moved towards her:
“Wwor-r-r-r!!!!” I said, and for good measure, “Wwor-r-r-r!!!!”
The assembled girls laughed. One or two made an attempt at a frightened shriek.
Bishop and, underneath, Rugby playing Bishop
But suddenly I realised I had met my match, because, out of the door that had released the short, fat Nun, there appeared another. But this Nun was neither short nor fat. She was built on the lines of a Bishop, and a Rugby Playing Bishop at that. She was huge and she was very angry.
At her appearance, every one of those shrieking, giggling girls disappeared as if by magic.
The Large Nun glowered at me from beneath grey, frowning eyebrows, and barked one word at me.
I closed the large half-glazed door carefully behind me.
As I stumbled down the gravel path, I took a quick peep over my shoulder. Nearly every window had at least one figure standing in it. But the sight that quietened my drunken soul, was the large figure standing on the other side of the front doors; her hands on her hips. I felt I could see her malignant eyes glaring at me as I turned and fled.
And so I decided to go home. The thought of wishing my father and his wife a Good Night had left my mind and I thought that home seemed the place to be.
The long walk back down Hay Street wasn’t nearly as much fun as the trip up, as I was now by myself. George, who had accompanied me for half the distance, had wandered off with Thessalonia-Jenny and Michael to start his new life and it was just me. I also wasn’t as fuelled with alcohol in some of its interesting forms, and it was getting late.
I was wandering along carrying my shoes, as I preferred to be bare footed when possible, when a car drove past me, slowed, and came to a stop. As I reached the car, I heard a voice from the driver:
“Do you want a lift?”
I stopped, bent down to see who spoke. A middle aged man in a Summer suit smiled up at me pleasantly.
“Errm…” I said.
“Hop in,” he said, and leaning across, opened the car door, “Hop in!”
I still had about a half hour’s walk ahead of me, so said, “Thanks,” and slid into the passenger seat.
“Where to?” he said, and we started off. I told him I was going to Adelaide Terrace.
We had been driving for a while when he turned to me and said,
“You’re lovely and brown. Go to the beach much, I suppose?”
“I suppose you have an all over tan. Ha ha!”
He started again:
“I suppose you go to Triggs. There’s a lovely beach up there where nobody goes… Very private. You don’t need to wear bathers.”
“No. I go to Grant Street,” I said, beginning to shift a little uneasily in my seat.
“Lots of sand hills there. At Grant Street. I bet you get your all over tan there, you naughty boy,” and he laughed. He patted me on the knee and smiled.
“Do you fancy a drive to King’s Park? Or the Causeway?”
“I just remembered,” I said, “I want to see a friend. I think I’ll get out here and walk the rest of the way.”
”But we’re still a long way from Adelaide Terrace.”
“No, this will do.”
He stopped the car, and smiled encouragingly.
“Are you sure?”
“Thanks for the lift.”
I walked the rest of the way home.
Walking towards home, I made my way down to Saint George’s Terrace, and walked along the pavement on the right side. Passing Government House, I felt the usual sweet melancholy I always experienced when I smelt the frangipani in the darkened bushes over the brick wall. I stood for a couple of minutes with my hands on the low brick wall, my face forward; my eyes closed, and gently breathing in the scents that always reminded me of my childhood in India.
Gradually I felt a soft wave of emotion creeping over me, like warm water lapping around my bare feet and slowly caressing my calves.
I looked down, almost expecting so see my feet buried in soft sand in the shallows of a white sand beach.
But I was standing on the grey flagstones of a deserted street in Perth, with my shoes on the wall beside me and suddenly I felt slow, soft tears running down the sides of my nose.
“You all right? Are you sure about King’s Park?” came a voice.
I turned around.
“No, I’m Okay”
And the man in the Summer suit waved, started his car, and drove off.
Returning home later, I noticed that the light was on in George’s flat, and on inspection, I also noticed that he was leaning over his balcony, taking the night air, and polluting it somewhat by smoking a cigarette.
I thought George had said that he had aimed to spend the rest of his life with the Female Ballet Dancer.
“Hello, George,” I called out to him in a friendly manner. “Where’s the love of your life?”
“Ah!” said George. George, if you may remember does not tend to be hyperbolic in his conversation. He says what he has to say, and that inclines to be that.
“Ah!” said George and disappeared into his flat.
George’s relationships tend to be dramatic, intense and spontaneous, but they also tend to be brief.
I walked up the outside stairs to my mother’s flat, opened the fly wire door, opened the front door, and closing the fly wire door carefully so as not to make a noise, I entered. Walking across the living room I opened the glazed door to my bedroom; a small enclosed balcony room with views across the Swan River to South Perth.
I sat on the bed, and putting my shoes, which I had been carrying, onto the floor, started to undress, ready for bed.
Somehow the world had slowed down, or I had, but everything seemed so peaceful and every movement I made seemed to be in slow-motion. Sitting quietly, I could hear a lion in the South Perth Zoo, roaring in that sad and plangent tone that the lion uses. Was he lonely? Did he miss someone? Up close it might have sounded louder and perhaps less melancholy, but the placid waters of the Swan River acted like a sounding board, and the deliciously evocative and sad tones reached my ear to increase my feeling if ennui, overlaid with melancholia.
Slowly I undressed, and still, the feeling of timelessness and weightlessness pervaded the whole room. I looked at my hands. In the moonlight that filled my room, they looked almost white. A man’s voice briefly whispered in my ear.
“You’re lovely and brown. Go to the beach much, I suppose?”
I stood up to take off my trousers, and was about to get into bed, when a thought struck me. I suddenly knew what I should do.
I went to the cabinet n the bathroom, and there, on the top shelf, beside a bottle of nail varnish remover and a little box of orange sticks and an emery board, stood the bottle of sleeping tablets.
I looked carefully at the label. It read: “Hugh Howling – Chemist” and below that, the simple instructions as to how many should be taken. Lorna’s name was written neatly below the instructions.
I took the little bottle of tablets back to my bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed again.
“Bugger!” I said; I had forgotten something. I went to the kitchen and filled a drinking tumbler with water and brought it back to my bedroom.
Then, very carefully, I shook one of the tablets into the palm of my hand. A little round, white tablet. I swallowed it and drank a sip of water. I have no trouble with taking tablets. Some people get quite worried about taking tablets. It’s easy for me.
I shook another little round, white tablet out of the little bottle into the palm of my hand and swallowed it. I drank another sip of water.
I shook the remaining tablets into the palm of my hand. Carefully moving them with the index finger of the other hand, I counted them. There were still thirteen left.
“Oh this is deadly boring,” I thought. The whole world seemed to be leaning into my little bedroom, watching, holding its breath, waiting.
With one movement, I placed all thirteen tablets in my mouth, swallowed them with a couple of gulps of the water in the glass, and then placed the glass on the bookcase close to my bed.
There was a small notepad and a pencil on the bookcase. I picked them up and wrote these few words:
“Don’t blame me. Blame the system.”
Then I got into bed.
I could still hear the lion roaring plaintively from his home at the South Perth Zoo as I drifted off to sleep.
This is Part One of my tale. If you have liked what you read, please go on to Part Two
- A Rake's Progress in One or Two Easy Stages Part Two
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