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Isolation

Sean is trying to get over the violent death of his partner whilst Jamie tries to piece it together.

He shifted and squirmed trying to relieve his aching limbs. His arms hurt, his legs hurt, everything hurt. The ground beneath him was solid and punishing; it provided no comfort, no respite from the pain. In fact it only heightened his agony. He stretched, unfurling from the awkward ball he had been curled into, wincing as his muscles pulled and stretched, felt like they were tearing. His head ached and he knew, he didn’t know how he knew but he just knew when he opened his eyes it’d be worse. Come on man, pull yourself together. The quicker the better. He snapped his eyes open and wanted to scream.

*

It was one of those rare sunny days, especially in December. Frosty and freezing but so sunny, the sky a perfect blue framed by fluffy white clouds that looked like balls of cotton wool. The sunshine reflected off the stain glass windows of the church, the pallbearers shoes; shiny and black and the mahogany casket as it made its way inside the church. My breath puffed, making little clouds of air and I felt the weight of that casket every time I took a step, my hand gripped the wood and I tried desperately not to think about what was inside, I knew it wasn’t him, not really. It wasn’t my Jamie. It was an empty shell. Jamie wasn’t here anymore.

It took everything I had left in me to turn and walk away from that coffin. It may not be Jamie but it was the closest I would get again. I couldn’t bear to listen to the Vicar, he spoke of someone he didn’t know but I knew him. He was my best friend, my lover, my partner. My world. I sat and stared at that coffin, the picture of Jamie that close by, I felt like I was seeing everything differently. Jamie and I had known each other forever. We grew up together, went to school together and figured out we were gay together. There had been other guys for us both but two years ago that all changed and now he was gone. Forever. I didn’t know how to be me, to be Sean without him. I had never had to be.

I felt Elaine, Jamie’s mum shifting beside me, she lay her hand on mine for a brief moment, squeezed it lightly and stood. The eulogy. It was time for the eulogy. Which meant I had to go up there soon, my last words to Jamie, my parting piece. Elaine’s though, Elaine’s was heart-wrenching and passionate.

“I… I struggled writing this more than I’ve struggled to write anything in my whole life. I never imagined this day would come, it’s one of my worst nightmares. Every parent’s worst nightmare. It shouldn’t happen and it has and I can’t make it better. Jamie is, was, he was an amazing person. Brave and happy and funny, he was so funny. He always knew the worst jokes but you had to laugh for the sheer ridiculousness of them and I would honestly give anything to hear one of those stupid, shitty jokes again. I’ve given up with questioning why this happened, why Jamie? Why me? Why our family? Was it my fault, some horrific punishment or penance? I’ve moved on from that now I can only think ‘What now?’ What now for our society, a society that judges someone on their sexuality, finds them lacking, that leads to their death? What now for those ‘Houses of Worship’ who speak out against homosexuality in the face of this impending tsunami of same sex pairings? What now when our children live in fear of being themselves, of loving someone else because it’s ‘a sin’ and ‘GOD hates fags.’ Who says? Who says God hates fags? I’m pretty sure no-one has ever asked him and been able to tell us about it. What has God got to do with your ignorance, I refuse to call it fear. Fear did not kill Jamie, an ignorant, dangerous person did. What now for a society that seems content to accept the death of this Beautiful Boy and the many others as an inevitable consequence of a crumbling society? Will I require more for those who live in society's shadows, knowing that they were at one time someone's Beautiful Boy? These questions and others haunt me because I know with certainty that until the pain and cost of continuing on the same course becomes greater than the pain of changing, that we will continue to lose many "other Jamies". For me, the time has come to change and, in order for that to occur, I will need a measure of courage that is uncommon to my life. So I ask you now to take a moment to think of Jamie, being gay didn’t define him and it should never have led to this. To Jamie, my son, my beautiful, bright, son, I love you, I’ll always love you and I’ll see you again soon.”

The church was silent as she stepped down from the pulpit. Her face a careful mask, drawn and pale, eyes sunken, ringed by circles of purple and blue and green but she didn’t cry. She stood tall, her blonde hair pulled back into a neat bun but her hands shook and she faltered as she passed the coffin. For a moment it looked as if she might crumble then she reached out, trembling, and lay her hand on the mahogany wood and continued to her pew.

I reached over, gripped her hand. For now I had to be strong, for her. Jamie would want me to be, would expect me to comfort her. I thought about Elaine’s words, about Jamie’s death and wished I could remember it. I raised my hand, ran my fingertips over the puckered skin on my cheek, stitched shut. I’d have taken a million scars to have Jamie back. Our last moments together and I had absolutely no recollection of it.

The vicar spoke for a while and there were hymns, then it was my turn. My turn to stand and speak and say goodbye.

“Jamie would hate this. He loved to see me in a suit and he’s missing out. He’d hate that we’re all here being sad instead of celebrating his life. But this moment came too soon. We were meant to have so much time together, time to laugh and argue and make up. Time to party and study and just live. We joked about this, about our funerals and what we wanted, I didn’t expect it to actually happen. But Jamie wanted this, wanted me to read this and for those of you that knew him well, no-one could ever deny Jamie, I certainly couldn’t. Bloody ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’”

“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.”

It was coming from memory now, the paper had blurred beyond all recognition and all I could see was Jamie, his goofy smile and brown eyes. The first time we kissed, first time we danced, how it felt to wake up next to him in the morning and fall asleep curled up beside him. How it felt knowing this would never, ever happen again. So many memories and so many unfulfilled dreams.

“The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.”

A hymn, a prayer and it was over. We stood as the coffin with Jamie, the last piece of Jamie inside disappeared from sight and at that moment my legs went weak, my knees buckled and I sank to the ground. The despair, the utter hopelessness of the situation was more than I could take. I didn’t cry, there were no more tears to come, I just knelt there until someone pulled me to my feet and forced me to carry on.

*

He knew he had to do it. Had to open his eyes and stand up. Had to get to Sean. The scene seemed so much worse when he opened his eyes this time. Sean lay on the ground, bleeding, he seemed to be bleeding from nowhere and everywhere all at once. His face was soaked in blood, red and wet and the smell of it, the smell of it was so strong. Finally, he pulled himself to his knees and eventually to his feet. He twisted and turned looking for someone, anyone who could help. It took a moment for him to realise this wasn’t the same fairground he remembered. Oh it looked the same at a glance but it was deserted, completely deserted. When he turned around Sean was gone too and Jamie was all alone.

*

The wake was endless. Endless people, endless food, endless stories. It seemed like everyone wanted to tell me their favourite memory of Jamie. Their funniest story or best joke. Couldn’t they see I just wanted to be alone.

I escaped after a few hours, kissed Elaine on the cheek and promised I’d call her later on. I had to be alone. I had to go back, figure out what had happened. Try and get those last few moments back.

The flashing strobe lights were blinding, moving and turning in every direction. Swarms of people flooded the ashy park buzzing with sheer excitement all aiming in different directions. Pleasure seekers, adrenaline junkies I stood in the midst of it all, observing the oddities. Hiding in plain sight, you could say trying desperately to remember…

The scent of sugary candy floss filled the air; sickly sweet and overpowering. Children and adults alike carried the fluffy pink clouds of spun sugar making fingers and mouths sticky. Vendors selling a variety of deep fried treats or the chance to win an unwanted prize tempted those high on the thrill and experiences offered. The pounding bass of at least twenty different songs dulled the screaming voices of both visitors and vendors and I stood in the midst of it all. I closed my eyes, inhaled the scents, heard the sounds, felt the weight of his hand wrapped in mine.

Groups of teenagers crowded around the fastest, highest, rides hand holding or arms linked chattering a mile a minute to each other. Jamie and I weaved through them all, avoiding the bustle, wrapped up in ourselves. Jamie loved the Waltzers and we rode them at least four times that night before dusk fell and the sun disappeared making way for the iridescent moon. The single light shining in the dark, inky sky and I continued my vigil. The later it grew the fewer people were left but I remained, alone in the emptying, quiet fairground as a last few stragglers, a gaggling group of women toddled out.

“We’re closing now, Sir.” He said, the man in the fluorescent yellow jacket, the park warden. With no reply I turned and began my walk home, I relished the silence, it gave me a chance to think, a welcome lull from the endless chatter from earlier in the day.

The walk home took me down the high street. All the shops were shut now, had been for hours; their employees long gone to spend time with their families. I stopped beside it, if Jamie was here he’d have loved it, he always loved it, its lights lighting up the silent street and illuminating the huge tree. Christmas had lost its appeal, before we had always had a huge celebration, complete with extravagantly decorated tree, ornate festive decorations and a mouth-watering meal, I can’t even think about it now. About the ring in the box under our bed, my Christmas Eve surprise for Jamie. A promise of a lifetime together, no longer. A few couples passed as I observed the huge tree: wrapped up in scarves, gloves and hats, snuggled together all looking exceptionally happy, stopping every now and then to “aw” and “aah” over the decorated tree. I continued my walk home, passing under the lights, shaped like festive symbols and pretended not to see them.

Our flat lay just outside of town, above a chippy, Jamie joked we’d get fat when we moved in. It was small, only one bedroom but that was all we’d needed and Jamie loved it. We both did. Loved having our own place, our little sanctuary from the world.

I let myself in, hung my jacket on the ridiculous coloured pegs behind the door en route to the kitchen to make myself tea. Mismatched crockery, shabby chic, Jamie always said. At some point we were going to get proper stuff but now I couldn’t bear to think of replacing it, there's really very little need anymore. I settled in the armchair, its partner sat in the corner looking rather forlorn, and it’s so very easy to imagine him sitting there; wearing his ridiculous Buddy Holly style glasses as he read the paper, sipping countless cups of tea and chattering incessantly about every little thing he could think of, complaining about whatever annoyed him. I liked this chair, I could stare out of the window from here and watch all the birds; just as preoccupied by their own tasks in life, once I was settled I flicked through a book, my prized possession; an ornate copy of ‘The Great Gatsby’, he gave it to me, years and years ago.

Sleep was calling me, tempting my subconscious. I tidied the sitting room, returning the book to its place on the coffee table before turning off the lights and heading off to bed. There are two doors in the hall - our bedroom and a little bathroom. Our double bed, too big and empty for just me, far too empty, still rumpled from when I’d climbed out that morning. In the little bathroom I washed my face and brushed my teeth before returning it to the cup on the sink and climbing into bed, exhaustion settled in and I slid into a restless sleep.

*

“Sean, Sean. SEAN?! Can you hear me Seanie? I need you to listen to me. I don’t understand Sean, I don’t understand where I am. Where did you go?” He was surrounded by darkness, wherever he looked Sean couldn’t see anything but inky blackness. “SEAN?” But that voice was unmistakable.

“Jamie, Jamie, where are you? I… I can’t see anything Jamie. I miss you, come back. Please.”

“Sean, I don’t have much time, you’re starting to disappear but you have to remember, Sean. I don’t know why but it’s important you remember. Remember the fair Sean, remember the gypsy.”

Sean woke with a gasp, “Jamie”.

*

The bright sun flooding in the bedroom window disguised the freezing temperature and illuminating the falling snow making it glitter and shimmer in the sunlight. I dressed and ate a slice of toast before leaving the house. Dressed in the same jacket as I’d worn that night, Jamie’s hoodie on underneath, it still smelled of him. I walked down the lane, in the morning sun there were no shadows to surround me and the hedges that lined the road were far less intimidating. My footsteps created a single set of prints in the new snow, at the end of the lane I crossed the heaving road, overloaded by shoppers on a mission to buy last minute presents for distant relatives at Christmas. I had no such problem, all our presents were neatly wrapped, hidden in a cupboard in the flat. Ready for Christmas day.

“Good Morning, your usual paper today?” Mr Smith, the owner knew my preference, I’d been coming here daily since we first moved in, he’d known Jamie too, they’d been far friendlier than Mr Smith and I were, a common love for football that drew them together. I never did like sport. I nodded my consent to him. “Have a nice Christmas.” He cheered as I left, his cheeriness faked; his smile too bright, his voice too chirpy, his eyes lingering on my cheek. I think I make him feel awkward it’s as if he never knows quite what to say or how to say it and that was before. I made my way towards the high street, now bustling with shoppers, carrying bags stuffed with their purchases; I only had one task this morning. Despite this I loitered, wandering through the crowds, gazing in shop windows and wondering about how different this would have been had he been here. Finally, I pulled myself together and found the shop I was after.

Afterward I hastened to escape, to leave behind the mass of people surging this way and that. I walked past the big Christmas tree, navigating the streets in an attempt to avoid the hustle and bustle. So many people, all with places to be, families they wanted to go home to. I thought of my little cottage, empty and waiting but still I hurried on. The further I progressed, the fewer shoppers I encountered until I came to my destination. I wandered down the lane - it’s dark, shadows creep along beside me; my company. The little cottage lies behind wrought iron gates, painted bright, shining, fire-engine red completed by a matching red front door. Jamie’s flowers grow in the front garden lined up with military precision like little soldiers awaiting orders. I entered without knocking.

“Morning Sean. Did you sleep?” Elaine stood in the kitchen, I could tell from a single glance that she clearly hadn’t, I thrust the sunflowers clasped in my hand towards her. “Jamie’s favourite. Thank you.” She gave me a wan smile.

“Not really, no, I keep replaying it, try to remember. I remember being there, at the fair. I remember the rides and how happy we were, it was getting late and we decided to go home. I remember a woman’s face and a little girl and a lot of pain and that’s it.”

“Remember what the doctor said, don’t push yourself too hard. If it’s going to come back, it will. We’ve just got to be patient is all.”
“I hate it. I hate that I didn’t save him, I should have saved him. I’m useless, first I let Jamie die and now I can’t even remember what happened so we can catch the bastards who did this. I’d give anything to go back to that night Elaine. I dreamt about him last night except it wasn’t like a dream, not really. Jamie was there except I couldn’t see him, I could only hear him. He told me to remember. To remember the gypsy. I’m not even sure what he means but I’ve got to go back. Tonight. I’m going to work this out Elaine. I promise you and I promise Jamie.”

*

I entered through the black wrought iron gates, bypassing the First Aid hut and pausing at the ticket booth. I traced our steps from that night, round the millions of rides. The gypsy. Jamie had to mean something other than the average travelling worker and then I spotted it, right up the back. The old fashioned, ornate, gypsy caravan. A colourful banner reading ‘Lucinda’s Lucky Look,’ Jamie never could resist someone predicting his future and he loved the whole idea of fate. I still couldn’t recall it but I knew if Jamie and I had been here we’d been inside that caravan. I jogged across the fairground, No time like the present, I thought to myself as I yanked open the door and stepped inside.

*

Jamie stood in the fairground, watching as Sean entered the gypsy’s caravan and slid in the door behind him, it was time to get some answers.

*

Poem - 'Stop all the clocks' by WH Auden

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