Tuesday, 26 January 2016

In Conversation with Virginia Macgregor

On a cold Thursday night, I find myself squirrelled away in  the small office of Waterstones nervously preparing myself for an interview with the delightful Virginia Macgregor. Virginia is with us to celebrate the launch of her latest book, 'The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells', nearly a year on from when her first novel 'What Milo Saw' was released to unanimous praise from critics and readers alike. Macgregor captures the real essence of what living in contemporary Britain is like at the moment, mixing contemporary issues with heart-warming prose. Before the event begins in which she will give a talk about her new novel, we take a few minutes aside so I can begin asking my questions.

   The first thing I note from Macgregor is that she effortlessly radiates kindness and affection, her trademark smile never fades from view; she speaks with such passion and enthusiasm about both her readers and her work. She thinks highly of her readers, "I think I'm just completely bowled over that even one person spends hours of their life reading my books. It still feels like such a privilege and slightly surreal." The humble nature of Macgregor is so refreshing, and it is something she is always bears in mind when I ask how she feels about people all over the country praising her novels, "I just feel overwhelmed by the thought of someone squirrelled away reading words that have come out of my imagination, it really is the best bit of the job!"

"fiction is the best place to explore the many issues of our age because it’s a way of resensitising people in a way that newspapers and the media and non-fiction sometimes don’t touch on."

Macgregor's first novel, 'What Milo Saw', took readers and critics by storm, telling the heart breaking story of a nine year old boy who is set out to save his Gran from a nursing home run by the cruel Nurse Thornhill. What makes this story exceptional in its delivery is Milo himself, he suffers from a rare eye condition that causes his vision to fail and will one day render him blind. In that retrospect, Milo has an eye for observational detail and picks up on the things others may miss. I ask Virginia more about where the idea for Milo came from, whether it had been a story planned out for a consecutive amount of time or had it just come to fruition one day. "I had wanted to write about the nursing home crisis, which might sound bizarre!" she laughs softly. "Not that I want to bang some moral-based drum but fiction is the best place to explore the many issues of our age."

   She then explains her love of the very young and the very old, which inspired the tender and unique relationship between Milo and his Gran. "They just have a very different spirit from the rest of us who are caught up in the murky middle of life; they are more authentically themselves, somehow more in tune with the natural world, there's an openness there, an affection." Her phone begins to ring, catching us off guard and in the blink of an eye, she apologises and silences it. Her excitement and passion is infectious, such as a child is when they are telling a story and I too share this excitement in our conversation. Virginia continues on, explaining how she wanted to tell the story through the eyes of a child, particularly being inspired by Emma Donoghue's 'Room'. "She wrote about, in a horrific context, a child incarcerated with their mother for years locked in a basement, and she told it through the eyes of a child, [she] transformed it into something humorous, quirky and touching." The character of Gran and the relationship she has with Milo came from a close relationship Macgregor formed with a lady in Switzerland, who she visits every year since she was a child, "There's a bond there that's remarkable" she smiles.

    I ask more about Milo's condition, retinitis pigmentosa, as it is a metaphor for a unique perspective certainly, but wonder if there is any more reasoning behind it. "I wanted to give him something else, something that would explore how children who have some kind of disability often compensate in some way, like how a weakness can become a superpower! Milo's retintis pigmentosa seemed like the most interesting idea to explore but also a wonderful metaphor: the notion of looking through a pinhole, looking at things so precisely but missing the wider periphery.

"If you're a contemporary novelist then you're researching all the time, every conversation you ever had, every time you look out the window, you're constantly thinking of ideas."

 What makes Macgregor stand out from her peers is her determination to reward her readers and give them something in return, by creating online workshops that help any aspiring creative writers. When asked why she set these workshops up, she engages me in the passion she has for her students an English teacher for the last ten years. "There's a real hunger for people to understand the writing process, whether it be for publication or pleasure, some people just love to write stories. It nourishes them, unjumbles their thoughts and helps them see the world better."  We then move on to the topic of social media in which she feels everything is "a constant showing off parade, though I do it myself but I have to tweet out the good reviews, my upcoming events because it's part of the job. By giving [the workshops] that doesn't require anything in return, I hope that for people who want to find some inspiration the occasional workshop may help them." Her next aim is to create a workshop specifically dedicated to children, after the birth of little girl Tennessee provided this major inspiration. "Telling stories and writing stories should be a part of every child's childhood, it's about finding your voice, your outlook on life and the world, it's a good way of parents to communicate with their children, so they get to know what they are really feeling." I ask more about her daughter Tennessee, and Virginia delightfully informs me that her first word was page, uttered whilst Virginia read her a story. Without a doubt, Tennesee will inherit her Mother's love for literature and the written word.

    Before Virginia is whisked away to start her talk, we briefly discuss her new novel 'The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells', the title character inspired after the character of Norah in Henrik Ibsen's 'A Doll's House' who walks out on her family. Though the world may seem familiar to readers of 'Milo', Virginia assures me that the issues are very different. "We're in contemporary Britain telling the story of the mother that left and the mother that stayed, but each chapter is told from a different perspective, such as the family dog or Norah's daughter." We close on a interesting story Virginia tells me about a real life incident where a woman walked out on her family and returned after eleven years to pick up where she left off. Politely thanking me for my time, I wish her the best of luck for the talk and off she goes, still beaming her radiant smile that has wormed it's way onto my face.

   It's rare to find an author so humble and so indebted to her readers, yet is so passionate about conveying contemporary issues in the most fascinating ways. I urge all of you to pick up a copy of both of Virginia's books, you'll laugh, you'll cry and they will stay with you long after you have finished reading. You'll never want to leave the world of Milo or Norah again!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Resonating with Lisa Simpson

Way back in 1990, The Simpsons aired it's sixth episode 'Moaning Lisa', primarily fixating on why Lisa is sad though she cannot say why, and through her pairing with Bleeding Gums Murphy she finds the hope to be herself again. To this day, the episode hits hard with me because it tackles many difficult topics for a cartoon without ever becoming patronising or despairingly bleak.

   Like Lisa, I find myself waking up some days feeling defeated and hopeless. I cannot pinpoint a reason or a cause as to why I feel that why, I just simply do. Then sometimes, when I'm getting dressed for work, or trying to find my wallet I hear the voice in my head that says "You're lonely. No one is here. Everyone has gone away and left you." This becomes a daily battle with myself, one half of my brain telling me that I'm fine and I'm having an off day, the other twisting it in the most melodramatic fashion, "You have no money. Your degree is pointless. Why are you bothering to be okay? You should be worrying. You're never going to get a real job so why are you even trying? Why are you being a people pleaser? You're embarrassing yourself.  Look how well they're doing. You're never going to be like that."

  Like I say, I cannot pluck a reason out of thin air for how I feel, it is a variety of things thrown into one big cauldron. Like Lisa, I have days when I can't even smile, or if I do it's because I'm forcing myself to be okay, to put on a front. Then I get home, I sit on the couch and realise how exhausting it is to put on an act like that. I feel like I'm in a tunnel, or a box from which there is no escape. Adulthood comes in many shapes and forms for many, but once University ended everything just lost a sense of purpose. I feel like I'm letting people down for not using my degree to get a more substantial job. I isolate myself so I don't burden anyone.  Lisa is very much isolated from her family, through her music or her thriving academic success, and this could be a reason as to why she is saddened but it is really never explained. I too feel isolated at the best of times. Though my house mate is a truly an amazing person, I find myself at a distance, of always feeling lonely, my friends through University are scattered up and down the country, meaning I rarely see them. Though I have family in close proximity, I always feel I am intruding, intruding on their life and new aspirations. I have friends in relationships, friends who are getting engaged or moving onto the next step in life, yet I feel like I'm being left behind. Not to say I'm in desperate need of a partner by all means, I enjoy single life. 

Yet, I find loneliness to be different as opposed to wanting to be in a relationship. It's the companionship people long for. Rejection on the other hand, reinforces the loneliness. Such as when Lisa improvises on her sax during a school musical number, the idea is rejected by her teacher. Lisa's expression of her true self is rejected rather than nourished, again something I can resonate with. Days can come and go, and, in the words of Lisa, I feel like "I'm the saddest kid in Grade Number 2". 

   Hope prevails however, in the form of both Lisa's, and my creativity. Lisa is a musician, who expresses herself through Jazz and can play her blues away, whereas mine is writing, poems, prose, anything that nourishes me and helps unscramble the many voices fighting to dominate my mind.

  I'm not saying I'm the only one who feels like this, I know so many people that feel the same way but maybe are unsure of how to voice their feelings and emotions but by the end of 'Moaning Lisa', you can be assured that it's okay to be sad. Marge becomes the mother we all know and love by encouraging Lisa to be herself, if she wants to be sad, she can be sad, but the whole family will be there for her no matter what, and sometimes that is exactly what we need to hear. The days where we wish to shut ourselves off from the world are needed so that we can re-emerge the next day, feeling more elated and more cathartic. Sometimes we need those moments to be sad, to show our emotion rather than bottle it up, in order to see the light again, and value everything that makes our lives so substantial and rewarding. I still have my bad days, but then I wake up the next day feeling better, ready for a new outlook on the day, feeling unstoppable. I make new friends, talk to more people, I expand myself, push myself in order to narrow down the days when I'm not feeling particularly great.

   So what really have I learnt from this? If anything, Lisa Simpson taught me that it's okay to have those days where you want nothing to be sad, but that it will always get better through the people you surround yourself with, and it feels euphoric, exactly what I imagine Lisa felt that very moment when she played her saxophone with Bleeding Gums under a full moon.
   So thank you Lisa Simpson.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Revenant Review

Continuing my reviews for the Oscar-nominated pictures, we find ourselves at 'The Revenant', a strikingly bold and unforgiving film by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, best known for his masterpiece 'Birdman' which swooped the Best Picture Academy Award last year. Iñárritu continues to push such boundaries in a film that is relentless with it's story of one man's thirst for revenge. Iñárritu plunges right into the action from the off and refuses to let go of the viewer; this is all directed in an extremely immersive way to heighten the senses and leave you flinching but somehow lacks something in terms of a cohesive story.

As told in Michael Punke's source novel, 'The Revenant' recounts the exploits of a group of upright American men in the early 1800s, presumably in a trading situation but it is never really explained, bar the fact the team is lead by the honourable Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and there is a shift in the group, lead notably by the cruel John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). However the focal point of the film, and the reason why we all bought a ticket, is Leonardo DiCaprio's Hugh Glass, who is abandoned by his group after he is savagely mauled by a bear and left for dead. What then Iñárritu achieves is simply one man's struggle to claw his way out of the wilderness and have his revenge. Frustratingly, there is little to no context on Glass's life before the film, save for a monumental flashback or dream, so the narrative unquestionably suffers, but this really is of no importance as Iñárritu allows DiCaprio to fully invest himself into a role that is more punishing than it is rewarding.

Frankly, this is a film that favours the visual. From the staggeringly beautiful opening of Iñárritu's long takes weaving between trees and guns firing, gliding seamlessly with moments of astonishing beauty that showcases the exposed, and at times dangerous, aspect of nature, particularly as Arikara warriors descend onto the group. There is chaos unfolding everywhere and the viewer is thrust right into the action thanks to the swift, gliding direction of the camera, it is as relentless and as uncompromising as Hugh Glass itself.

And so begins what can undoubtedly be called DiCaprio's finest performance. As terrific as the supporting cast are, though Hardy's mumblings were a little inaudible at times, this is Leo's time to shine. He spends the majority of the film silent, walking, or crawling yet he captivates the screen with every second he has, even the more eccentric moments of Glass breathing heavily that are scattered amongst the score give the emotional edge the film needs.  The raw power of his gruelling endeavour isn't for the faint hearted, but you sympathise with him all the more so because of the heavily stacked odds against him. Iñárritu constantly uses symbolic imagery around Glass that suggests rebirth, such as him rising from the grave that was dug for him, morning sunlight that melts away the snow or even a more grotesque image of Glass using the corpse of a dead horse to sleep in which is shot with a close up opening up the stomach as he awakens. The imagery around him supports this idea, primal beautiful landscapes that intimidate in the snow but bask in glory in the sun, all supporting the idea of a man being reborn through harsh and unforgiving circumstances. 

However, the moments when the narrative tries to re-establish itself, the film wavers. There is a sub-plot with the Arikara tribe attempting to recover a lost member which is never explained, Glass experiences psychedelic dreams with a past lover, presumably the mother of his child that halt the film and often seen out of place and unnecessary as we are pulled away from the singular man on his journey, though they still remain striking moments thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki's terrific cinematography. The natural lighting and the gloomy score reaffirms the film's authenticity, and so brief moments like this are compensated well.

Brutal, unforgiving and tremendously captivating, Iñárritu delivers a bombastic tour-de-force with an Oscar worthy performance from DiCaprio that sometimes suffers from a thinly woven narrative and unnecessary moments, but still remains gruellingly exquisite. 

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Danish Girl - Review

As Award Season frantically begins, where better to start with the film that has caught the headlines and grabbed people's attention before even buying a ticket. Tom Hooper's 'The Danish Girl' tells the story of Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), a well respected artist happily married to his loving wife and wannabe artist Gerda (Alicia Vikander). What starts off as a simple game of modelling Einar in dresses and make up leads to a reawakening of Einar discovering her true self, though her body is biologically male, on the inside she is Lili Elbe.

Hooper has a track record of dealing with sensitive subject matter, and the approach was always going to be observed with such scrutiny from critics and audiences alike, especially in a time where the topic of transgenderism is at an all time high, brought to the mainstream thanks to women like Caitlin Jenner or Laverne Cox. However, Hooper delivers another masterpiece of a film, handled with such sensitivity and fragility without ever becoming self indulgent. Redmayne excellently carries off two performances as the repressive Einar and the softly spoken, delicate and wonderfully vulnerable Lili. Lili  is shot with such soft focus that accentuates this vulnerability, her face fills the screen inn oddly shot angles that carry angelic qualities; matched with Redmayne's trademark grin, these moments are poised with such beauty. The film carries a mounted and restrained tone but still packs soft, subtle emotional moments. Such as Einar running his hands absent-mindedly along a rack of dresses, stripping naked and altering his body to look more female whilst staring in a mirror or attending a peep show in Paris to simply copy the hand movements of the model. These moments are subtle rather than drawn out as one would expect, and Hooper grasps this tone throughout the film and never lets go. The space between discovery of the self and the self Lili portrays on the outside is the space Hooper explores throughout the course of the film, and is truly heartbreaking for it.

Though Redmayne delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Einar and Lily, very clearly separating the two it is Vikander who caries the film as she turns from playful, experimental to astonishingly supportive though carrying the tragic burden of losing her husband forever. Her emotion is raw and equally as heartbreaking as Lili's story, if not more so, and Vikander delivers on every note, from unquestionable rage to energetic heartbreak. At times however, the film has a tendency to deliver a perspective looking through rose-tinted glass, especially in the last act where Lili is halfway through her transition, and she begins working in a shop whilst Gerda works on her paintings. You get the impression that everything will work out for the best, and the mourning Gerda has for her husband seems almost lacking, but this is quickly altered in the final few minutes of the film.

Hooper once again delivers a film that looks beautiful. Amongst the close-ups of Lili's china-bone features are inter-cuts of the bleak Copenhagen landscape, washed out colours that beautifully reflect Einar's paintings we see at the beginning of the film. Hooper conjures up the idea of nature, the natural world in which Lili wishes to belong, but she can only exist in paintings or in the imagination, simply reaffirming the heartbreak and tragedy of the film. Alongside this we have the moving score by Alexandre Desplat, the simplicity and the fragility of the piano working perfectly alongside the fragility of Lili determining to be heard for who she is when no-one is prepared to listen.

Redmayne will no doubt win a vast majority of awards for his performance, but truly Vikander's emotional turn steals the show. Intoxicating, strikingly subtle and as vulnerable as Lili Elbe herself, 'The Danish Girl' is a thought provoking gem.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig

"You are in a hurricane. Hurricanes run out of energy eventually. Hold on!" This is one of the many valuable pieces of information Matt Haig offers to his readers in his first piece of non-fiction, 'Reasons to Stay Alive'. Haig's conversational tone about his struggles with depression and anxiety make for a very important, and at times utterly heartbreaking read. As someone who has dealt with anxiety over the last year or so, this is an incredibly poignant book with the power to help those who see no way out.

Haig is openly candid about his depression, the opening chapters recall his days of living in Ibiza, where he stood atop a cliff and contemplated about ending his life. What follows is half memoir, half self help as Haig's charming, funny and straightforward prose sets to straighten out the stigma that surrounds mental illness, but without coming across as self indulgent or pretentious. This is a brutally honest account, with short bursts on each page surrounding a specific sub-topic, such as the humour filled 'Conversations with myself' or the heart wrenching account of being unable to walk out of the house and go to the shop without succumbing to crippling fear. It is at times, so brutally honest, that it makes it more so approachable, without ever being bogged down with overwhelming science or academia. He writes a honest book for regular people, and I cannot commend him enough.
 I finished the book within a day, due to the small construction of each chapter but Haig's words refuse to leave me, they have resonated deep within myself and in some way, have altered the perspective in which I see the world.

By no means is this a traditional self-help or spirituality book, the academic facts are there but briefly, as a reference point rather than to weigh you down with numbers and statistics. Haig is not attempting to define or reshape what anxiety or depression is, rather he is sharing his story in a way that can resonate with others. Truly, Haig has voiced exactly how I felt at a time where my anxiety was crippling my every move. I was isolated from those I loved and perhaps even worse, I was isolated from myself. The figurative thought of failing University, and failing my supporting family clouded every move I made. I would forget how to speak, my breathing would increase dramatically and I sometimes felt that I would be stuck in this insufferable prison forever, like it was a punishment for something. I would never  discuss this with anyone, or try and articulate how I felt. There were times I felt worthless, alone, intolerable to others; this was all in my own head and I would never fathom the words to string a sentence together to try and begin to describe how I felt. Thankfully Haig clearly and eloquently finds the words for me and those who struggle to articulate how they feel.

This book will make you chuckle, and will no doubt cause a lump to form in your throat. But it is one of the most important, life affirming books I have read in years, so I urge you to give it and try. We all experience forms of worry, or anxiety. We struggle to pay our bills, worry about climbing up the social/buisness ladder, whether or not we'll find our soul mate, but sometimes we are quick to use terms like 'depression' or 'anxiety' as presupposed adjectives, rather than conceive them as troubling mental illnesses that need our attention. Chances are you have depression, experienced depression or you know someone with depression, and this book will be the shining star to guide you through the darkness. Even if you just want to experience a fresh perspective on the world, please just take the time to read this truly astonishing piece of work; to end on Haig's fifth reason to stay alive, "You will one day experience joy that matches this pain."

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Untitled Short Story

“From the BBC news centre at 12. Three people were found dead today in the North London Area, after what sources believe was a potential targeted attac-” Before the announcer can finish, Sam switches the radio off and it crackles out, submerging everything into stillness, save his quivering bursts of breath. It was well into the early hours of morning and Anthony hadn’t been spotted in over nine hours, he hadn’t been home in over fifteen. Sam often tried not to count the hours in meticulous fashion, Anthony didn’t like it, said it made him paranoid, uneasy. Well if you hadn’t heard from your boyfriend in nearly a day wouldn’t you worry too? Besides, it’s not the longest he’s been gone for. A memory resurfaces for a moment, hazy phonecalls, sterile hospital rooms and mind-numbingly long conversations with the police that he didn’t especially care for. Sam freezes for a moment and every single bone in his body feels locked into place, as if he was wired to the ground or part of the newly bought furniture. The lock snaps as Sam then begins to shake uncontrollably, unable to determine the cause on rage or exhaustion. What if Anthony is one of those bodies lying out there in the street? What if blood is pouring from his skull into the sewer from the cold cracks in the pavement? What if he had made a testimony, a dying wish, or an apology, a plea to Sam, saying “Christ you were right! Why did I choose to ignore your concerns, why did I sacrifice every star in the sky to be noble?” Sam clutches at his chest as his breathing quickens and a lone tear flickers down his cheek. It inscribes a soaring pain against his soft pale skin and triggers Sam to wail so loudly, one could mistake him for a feral animal. At that moment the familiar clink of the fire escape grabs Sam’s attention and turns toward the window opening out to the city. He always admired the view, despite Anthony’s interjections. The wooden frame held the night as tightly as a photographic snapshot, the gleaming lights from the collective towers of the city forever made it feel like sunset, no matter what day or time it was. Beautiful was a lazy adjective to describe it. Sam is suddenly aware of how bitterly cold it is and he is pulled away from the photographic submersion.
 Hackney, 12:04am, it’s a Sunday. Propelled by a spontaneous surge of forward momentum, Sam reaches out to the window to close it and close himself off for the night. He grabs the panel, stiff and tainted with age, and is taken aback when he is greeted by an irksome, crooked grin that no bad costume could hide. “Hey monkey!” chirps Anthony, as if he’s strolling in from a day at the office, bringing home the bacon. His expression reeks of pride and completely ignores the solemn look on Sam’s face as he slides through the window and helps himself to a week-old bottle of whisky. The drinking had only started recently. ‘Monkey’ was Anthony’s favourite sobriquet for Sam in the early days of their relationship. “Don’t you dare ‘monkey’ me” Sam spits. “I’m guessing you know something about these three bodies found dead this evening? News fucking-flash Anthony, three people are DEAD and I’m still choosing to argue with you.” Anthony finishes the bottle in record timing and flickers his eyes open before turning to Sam, as if being woke from a dream and still caught between the realm of fantasy and reality. The mind is present yet the body lingers. Anthony still remains unsure of which he is in as the alcohol takes effect, swirling through his veins and creating an expansion of colours in his mind. Despite the bitter cold of the night, he is sweating, and chooses to perch at the foot of the bed. “Oh… I get it Sam, you think it’s me don’t you? Yes well done Mr Holmes, I became distracted due to my unfathomable boredom on the tube and thought to myself ‘I’ll happily bump off three people’ after I finish tracking down the bigots that murder people like us and drop you a text in-between all of that.”
The sarcasm in his voice smells as bad as the stale whisky on his breath. He begins to undress, throwing his clunky boots toward the door, when he lifts his jumper the moonlight positions itself on his back – putting him in the spotlight. His arched back is ablaze with purple and blue but mixed with the stark pale moonlight, Sam begins painting in his mind. The colour palette is extraordinary. Still arching his back, Anthony winces as Sam gently rests his palm on the biggest imprint he can see, his hand delicately searches for more across the vast canvass of Anthony’s bare back, it’s as smooth and as cold as pure marble – ready to be sculpted. Sam places the softest kiss on his tainted skin and leaves him to finish undressing. “Why…do you continue to do this to yourself Ant? Lord knows I’m aware of your hatred for the…those people. We both said it would have to end months ago and yet you continue to sneak off every night and pursue this vigilante bullshit? It’s been over a year and like an idiot I’m still here, stitching your scars, cleaning your wounds and even conversing with the police to cover your tracks. I can’t…” Sam trails off. Every other night results in the same formulaic routine, Sam confronts Anthony, Anthony argues back, demanding that justice has yet to be served and he won’t rest until it’s done. Gone are the days when they could legitimately discuss a foreseeable future, Sam wanted to settle down, maybe have kids. Marriage wasn't desirable, but he wavered now and then. All those thoughts fizzled at the moment Anthony slipped into the night. He flees into the urban night, causing panic and commotion while Sam paces back and forth against the window. He can’t even paint any more, it becomes too distracting. Anthony, Sam realises, is more or less cheating on me. He despises our idyllic (if turbulent at times) life and would rather put himself on the chopping block every night, thriving off the kind of idiotic violence Hackney is more than used to. Sam conjures up the possibility of whether it would be worse if Anthony was seeing someone else. Suppose it could even give him inspiration for a new painting. The last one was a flop anyway and ended up in the skip. Is that even normal? Would Sam really rather Anthony undercut every value in their relationship in favour of getting himself beat to a pulp by homophobic bigots? Even Batman had to throw in the towel at some point.  
“Sam, I’ve told you time and time again, I am doing this community a service. We should not stand by and let our kind be cast aside like they are – we need to be the voice of those who cannot speak!” Anthony exclaims as he punches the air before stumbling over his jeans. “We? WE? OUR KIND?! Do you fucking hear yourself Ant, there’s no we in this. We’re not Martians, we’re not animals, we are just flawed human beings. I want to simply live Ant. What happened to that boy was terrible and unlawful I know, we've unnecessarily brought him up countless times, but what do you think you’re really doing by playing Superhero in London? This isn't a film for Christ’s sake Ant, you think dressing up and putting people in the hospital is justice?” Sam’s voice has risen so high someone shuffles upstairs, causing the floor to creak. Anthony has fallen back into his catatonic state, not before sighing and rolling his eyes. He’s beyond caring what Sam thinks and he’s heard this white noise time after time. Why should tonight be any different? The room is filled with a silence so long and so large Sam feels every second pass by, the ticking of the clock tapping into his skull as gracefully as rain tapping against the window. It tap-tap-taps for a while before descending to drizzle. Even though it’s April, one could mistake it for snow. Sam sighs and watches Anthony drift into sleep. It takes exactly seventeen seconds. He then presses his left palm to his forehead and begins to lean forward, embracing his knees close to his chest. Everything is blocked out and blanketed with darkness. This was sanctuary, and it had become a regular recluse. Here Sam felt like the artist he once was, free of the commitments and the restraints of Anthony. He didn't have to spend hours cleaning blood out of his hair or from the window ledge. He didn't have to beg Anthony to stay when he was halfway out of the window. He didn't have to cry whenever another body had been found, praying that it wasn't Ant. In the darkness, another memory resurfaces. Anthony is reading an excerpt from Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’. That used to be his favourite; reading by candlelight until Sam fell asleep still clutching Anthony’s hand. Back when he was known as the dashing bookseller, the academic, the charmer. Sam’s eyes burst open and are reminded of the impending darkness. Anthony the rogue is the only persona Sam knows. He tilts his head and finds the moonlight still shining on Anthony while he sleeps. “I don’t know what you expect of me any more” whispers Sam. “Then where do we go from here?” Anthony asks in a sleepy mumble. Sam avoids giving an answer because he has no answer to give. He instead has to leave, to get out of the tempestuous storm before he succumbs to its wrath. Sam steadies himself on the nearest chair and throws a handful of belongings into an old rucksack. It takes him forty five seconds. Sam takes a moment to look at Anthony while sleeping, blissfully unware of the chaos and destruction he has caused, struggling to see the man he once loved. Sam quickens his pace as he lifts the latch of the front door and quietly closes it behind him. He takes sixty six steps and never looks back. It takes him one hundred and eighty nine seconds.