If BBC Radio 4 was a country, I would move there. “Traces” is inspired by the kind of play Radio 4 sometimes produces it is the story of a widower and his grief.
It’s told only using the traces we leave in our wake: meeting notes, emails, voicemails, scraps of paper. I’ve never succeeded in getting this published.
Perhaps it lacks erotic content, or it’s too experimental, or it just isn’t very good. I’d love to know what you think.
EXTRACT OF TRANSCRIPT FROM TAPE RECORDING, JOHN RIVERS, SESSION 3 WITH DR. LODGE, THURSDAY March 29th 2001
JOHN RIVERS:Have you ever noticed how sex is everywhere when you’re not getting any? It wasn’t like this when I was married. You know how it is after you’ve been married for a while. Gill and I were happy. We had sex at least once a week, sometimes twice. It was good. Like being able to take a really hot shower whenever you wanted one.
I miss it. I miss her.
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get to that. I hate to cry in these sessions.
Dr, LODGE:It’s OK to cry here John.
JOHN RIVERS:Yes I know you think it’s all right, but I don’t. Wounds don’t heal when you pick at them and make them bleed.
Dr. LODGE:You were telling me about sex, John.
JONH RIVERS:Sex. Yes. Everywhere I look there are images of naked women: on TV, in magazines, newspapers, billboards, everywhere.
Then of course there are the real women. Women in the office, on trains, in cafes, at the supermarket. All of them sexually active. All of them attractive.
Dr. LODGE:All of them?
JOHN RIVERS:Well yes maybe all is an exaggeration, but I’m getting good at finding the attractive bits. I can be brought to a halt just by the way a woman lifts her hair from her neck on a hot day.
Dr. LODGE:And that bothers you?
JOHN RIVERS:Well of course it bothers me. I’m not like this. I like women. I’ve always found them easier to talk to than men. My doctor, my dentist, my lawyer, and you of course, are all women.
Dr. LODGE:Is that why you selected me John?
JOHN RIVERS:No I selected you because you have an excellent reputation as a shrink; your gender just made things easier.
These past weeks I’ve found that I keep seeing women as sexual objects. It’s distracting. It’s more than distracting, it’s disgusting.
Let me give you an example. I was on the plane home last night, tired, not looking forward to coming back to an empty house, but glad to be leaving an empty hotel room. I was sitting at the front in an aisle seat in what passes for business class.
Dr. LODGE:Did you ask for an aisle seat?
JOHN RIVERS:Yes I chose the aisle. Don’t get gnomic on me Doctor, it’s just a seat choice not a personality trait. I like aisle seats, always have.
Anyway people were still boarding. I’d never noticed before that, when you are seated, you are just at breast height. I’ve started to notice breasts. I mean I always knew all women had them. But they weren’t the first things I’d notice. I didn’t find myself wondering about the colour of the nipples or how the weight would feel in my hand. Now I do. I’m obsessed.
There must have been men getting on the plane as well but I didn’t notice them, just this parade of breasts. The pair I noticed most were round and high, seeming large against the small frame that carried them, but not heavy. They were clad in white cotton T-shirt that read ‘Some girls do. Some girls don’t. This girl might’.
Once I would have been amused, now I could hear myself thinking ‘Fuck yes’. I was still reading the T-shirt when I registered the wide smile of its owner. She was early twenties, regular features, shoulder length brown hair, and dark dark eyes. She spoke again and this time I heard ‘excuse me’. I must have looked an idiot trying to figure out what she meant. I thought perhaps that it had something to do with the T-shirt. Then I realised she had been assigned the seat next to mine.
I started to rise just as she lifted her bag into the overhead locker. I could see she was wearing a sports bra. White. Smooth. Holding her firmly in cotton I knew would be warm from her skin. OK so I lost the plot. And I got an erection. So now I’m standing in the aisle, holding my paperback copy of “Hannibal” in front of me and trying not to look like a complete letch. She slid past me and sat in the window seat. I tried only to look from the side of my eye as she reached behind her to find the seatbelt. I felt like such a pervert.
You know when AMEX surveyed business class passengers on their main fears about flying, top of the list was having to talk to the person next to them. That’s one reason why I was carrying “Hannibal”, to put people off. Normally I’m good at it. Normally I’m not sitting next to a woman with a provocative T-shirt whose breasts I urgently want to suckle.
Dr. LODGE:You wanted to suckle her breasts? Why suckle?
JOHN RIVERS: Suckle? Do you think it’s an odd choice of verb? Well it’s what I wanted to do. Not bite or squeeze, just suckle.
Anyway, it turned out that Natasha wasn’t a frequent flyer and didn’t know the rules. She introduced herself, told me she was from Australia, working for a while in Lausanne and that this would be her first trip to London. She was polite and friendly and I got beyond her breasts and started to talk to her. I told her my name and my job. We talked about working abroad and then about London. The hour went quickly. Neither of us bothered with the plastic food but we both took the champagne.
When the plane landed I stayed seated for a while, I hate the way people stand hunched over waiting for the door to open, and she said. “Did my T-shirt bother you?”
I smiled and said “What T-shirt?”
“It was a present from my sister and I’m meeting her when we get off the plane. Look, it’s been good talking with you. Maybe sis and I could meet up with you and your wife sometime over the weekend?”
“Gotchya. I spotted the wedding ring when you were holding Hannibal so strategically.”
My face must have changed. Her voice trailed off as she was saying, “I guess you’re left handed…”
“My wife died six months ago.”
I didn’t mean it to come out like that. It sounded angry. She apologised. We were both embarrassed. I wished her a good weekend.
I hate it when you move me on like that. And… you say, like I’m missing the point or hiding something. I know, I know, I’m projecting.
Well the And is that, that night, before I went to sleep, I masturbated, thinking about her breasts.
Dr. LODGE: How do you feel about that John?
JOHN RIVERS: How do I feel about that? Jesus H Christ I don’t know why I come here. I tell you the most intimate parts of my life and you ask polite non-directional questions. Do you get off on that? Are your knickers damp between those crossed legs of yours? Are you laughing at the pathetic little wanker who can’t cope without his wife? ARE YOU?
Dr. LODGE: Please sit down John.
JOHN RIVERS: I’m sorry, Jennifer. I didn’t mean that. I get angry so quickly. Nothing’s been the same since… Nothing.
Dr, LODGE:Our time is up for this week John. Let’s pick this up next time
JOHN RIVERS: Next time? Yes. I’m sorry Jennifer.
You have reached the voicemail of John Rivers on Friday 30th March. Please leave a message after the long tone. Beep, beep, BEEEEP.
“Hi John. Look, I’m sorry to call you at work but it was the only contact number I had for you. Oh this is Natasha by the way. You met my T-shirt on the ‘plane and talked to me afterwards?
Anyway, I’m sorry about my foul up with your wife… shit that doesn’t sound good does it. Look, mentally delete that part. OK? Well don’t delete it but make it sound better.
Anyway, I’m calling you cos I’d like the chance to talk to you again. Sis and I, her name’s Cheryl by the way, are eating out at Covent Garden tomorrow night and I’d love you to come.
No pressure, just a relaxed meal with two beautiful women who will make all the other men jealous. Joke. Well maybe. It’s only Maxwell’s so it’s informal, but I promise to wear a different T-shirt.
Even if you can’t stay to eat, come for a drink, otherwise I’ll know that I’ve really offended you. Yes that was blackmail. Hope to see you there at 9:00.”
Date: Sunday April 1st 2001 18:34 gmt
Subject: and then…
How’s life back in Lausanne? It’s still raining here. Does this place EVER have a summer.
So. I know you’re dying to find out what happened on last night with “Hannibal” after you got that oh-so-convenient txt msg calling you away (I can’t believe they still fall for that).
I was surprised that for once he was as good looking as you said he would be. And those eyes – sorrowful and wounded. And those large hands. I was definitely getting that must-fuck itch.
Turned out to be a complete bust though. I mean I could never have seen him hooning around with the rest of us but I thought I’d at least get one good night out of him.
What a drongo he turned out to be. We were walking and he eventually got the hint when I “fell” against him and we stumbled into the doorway of the National Gallery.
His hands went everywhere but mainly on my tits. I know he’d been wanting to do that for hours. God he had large hands. He slid the right one between my legs and I just never wanted to let it go. I fumbled to unzip him. Not bad. Nice size. Definitely a stand up guy. He was sucking on my tits like he wanted to draw milk. I was getting ready for a good night. I rolled back the foreskin – God I love Brits with foreskins – and then the bastard came all over me. Stained my fucking skirt.
It was a shock and I said shit or something. I mean I was ready to give him some more time when we got somewhere comfortable. I was about to say “Now I’ll have to take this skirt off”, when he backs away, leaves me with my legs spread, tits hanging out and cum on my skirt and just fucking runs off. Not a fucking word, just buggers off out of there. He was still tucking his dick in when he made Trafalgar Square.
You owe me big time sis.
Well, at least the dry cleaning bill.
I’ll collect when I get over to see you in late June. You can show me all the hotspots in Lausanne. Well I guess that will take care of the first 15 minutes.
Taped Dream Log: John Rivers Wednesday April 4th 3:45am.
I had the dream again but worse this time. I’m sweating here. The sheets are soaked. Let me try get this while it’s fresh.
Gill was waiting for me. At home. Only it was no place we ever lived. She was wearing the necklace that I bought her in Venice, and a silk slip. Knealing on the bed. Smiling. Then I was with her. On her. Smelling her. The slip was gone and her breasts were in my mouth. Then she’s on top. Riding me. Hands on my chest.
This is the part where I normally wake up with cum on my belly. But I wanted her so badly, I made myself stay.
Then the necklace started to choke her. But we kept fucking. Her face turned blue. She clawed at her neck, but she rode me and rode me. She fell forward on to me. I couldn’t move my hands to help her. Just watching her choke. But worse, feeling myself come.
I woke struggling for air, my palms bleeding from the pressure of my fingernails, cum splashed on my belly.
I can’t do this any more. I can’t.
Date: Thursday April 5th 2001 23:55 gmt
Subject: remember me – the sister you never write to?
Anna has been ill again tonight so I’m up and pacing about when I should be in bed, so I thought I’d email my invisible brother.
I know you’re throwing yourself into your work. You’re probably even thinking about staying over in Switzerland at the weekends. I can understand that. I’d need time alone too. But it’s been 6 month’s now and I miss you. The kids miss you. Well Anna’s too young to miss you, but Josh asks about you sometimes.
Why not come and stay with us over the Easter? You could complain about how badly Tim manages the BarBQ and we could sit in the garden getting quietly sloshed. I’d really like that. Please write back and say you’ll come.
Luv and kisses
PS: you are absolutely forbidden to bring Josh one of those Swiss Army knives he’s always pestering you for.
PPS: I do miss you, John, and I miss Gill too.
TRANSCRIPT OF TAPE RECORDING, JOHN RIVERS, SESSION 5 WITH DR. LODGE, THURSDAY APRIL 19TH 2001
Dr. LODGE:You look tired, John. I thought you were going to take Easter off
JOHN RIVERS I did. Friday at my sister’s.
Dr. LODGE: Only Friday?
JOHN RIVERS: It turned out to be a bad idea.
Aren’t you going to ask me why?
Ah, allowing me the silence to be heard. The police use that technique as well you know.
Well Madame Inquisitor, I left because I couldn’t bear the pity. I was cast as St. John the Widower. They were being so nice to me I wanted to slap them.
Does that answer your silent question?
Dr. LODGE How did you want them to treat you, John?
JOHN RIVERS: I don’t know. What do you mean?
Dr. LODGE What would have been the right thing for them to do?
JOHN RIVERS: The right thing for me to have done was not to have gone there in the first place.
Dr. LODGE You seem angry today, John. Would you prefer not to be here?
JOHN RIVERS: I’d prefer not to be anywhere.
Do you know what it’s like to wake and think “Oh shit, I’m still here”? To know that you’re going to spend another day waiting to join your dead wife?
Dr. LODGE Is that what you want John? To join her?
JOHN RIVERS: Of course I do
Dr. LODGE; Why?
JOHN RIVERS: Why? Why! Because she’s fucking DEAD and I’m not. And I can’t stand it.
Dr. LODGE Are you still troubled by unwanted erections, John?
JOHN RIVERS: What does that have to do with anything?
Dr. LODGE Please answer me.
JOHN RIVERS: Yes. Yes I am. If anything it’s getting worse.
Dr. LODGE What do you think that means, John?
JOHN RIVERS: It means that I get randy in my sleep.
Dr. LODGE You’re brighter than that, John. You’ve done the reading. You know that grief and depression usually suppress the libido.
JOHN RIVERS: So now you think I’m not grieving is that it? You think I’m faking it? That I don’t care that my wife died in a stupid accident while I watched? That all I want is to toss off in the mornings?
Dr. LODGE I think you want to live, John. I think you feel guilty about it. I think you know that and it makes you angry.
JOHN RIVERS:Well then you do a damned site more thinking than I do.
Dr. LODGE Are you still having the dream John? You haven’t given me a log this week.
Dr. LODGE And?
JOHN RIVERS: And she still dies. If I don’t wake up she dies.
Dr. LODGE How often do you masturbate?
JOHN RIVERS: I don’t. Don’t look at me like that. I’ve only masturbated once since my wife died.
Dr. LODGE Why don’t you masturbate?
JOHN RIVERS: Well at first I didn’t want to. My wife had died. And then it just didn’t seem right. Still doesn’t.
Dr. LODGE Did you masturbate when you were with Gill?
JOHN RIVERS Sometimes.
Dr. LODGE Did you enjoy it?
JOHN RIVERS Why else would I do it? Of course I enjoyed it.
Dr. LODGE But you don’t want to masturbate now?
JOHN RIVERS Is this a new therapy doctor? You want me to get a grip on myself? To cum to my senses? A wank a day will keep the blues away? I think that’s sick.
Dr. LODGE Where are you going, John?
JOHN RIVERS I’m leaving. I’ve had enough of this. I won’t be coming back.
Dr. LODGE One question, John: who’s fault is it that you are alive and Gill is dead?
JOHN RIVERS . Jennifer, you may be a Doctor, but you are also a bitch. Go fuck yourself.
HANDWRITEN NOTE ON “LAUSANNE PALACE HOTEL” STATIONERY. ENVELOPE READS “Message for John Rivers – 09:30 Friday 27th April”
I saw you leaving this morning just as I was coming down to breakfast. I didn’t know you were working out here. Who’s the client?
It make’s me feel old to admit it but it must be 5 years since we last worked together. I’m so pleased to see you!
I’m stuck here over the weekend as my Engagement Partner has scheduled a Saturday Breakfast meeting with General Management (typical macho crap).
Being a nosy bitch I fluttered my eyelashes at the folks on reception and found out that you’re staying here over the weekend too.
How’s about we get together and you show me what people do for fun here after they get bored of going “what a pretty lake, what pretty mountains”. I hear Le Blu Lizzard hits our normal sleaze factor and has good food too.
Come on Johnny, RESCUE ME.
(Room 403 – two doors down from yours – I’ll come and find you if you don’t call me and then think what your mini-bar bill will be.)
Date: Saturday April 28th 2001 19:22 gmt
Subject: Guess what!
I saw Hannibal last night in the Blue Lizard. He had this really tall woman with him and he was eating her alive with his eyes. Didn’t even notice me. ‘Course she was amazing looking. Very Celtic. You know: strong features, blazing red hair and very pale skin. I could have eaten her myself (except of course I’ve grown out of that kind of thing now – well apart from the odd irresistible snack).
Anyway, they were just finishing their meal when we arrived, and it looked like they were heading for the club downstairs. I thought about that all through my first course. Then I excused myself and went downstairs.
I couldn’t find them at first. They like to keep it dark down there. Then I spotted them in a corner.
I got close enough to see that he had his head on her breast and he was crying. Sobbing really. Like there was no one else in the room. It was sort of obscene. I’d have felt less disturbed if I’d found her giving him head or something. She was just stroking his hair and letting him cry.
She looked calm but somehow triumphant. Then she spotted me. You know that look that cats give you when you get too close to their newborn kittens? Well multiply by a zillion and that’s what I got from our Celtic warrior queen. I got out of there in a hurry. I didn’t even stay for the rest of dinner. Looks like you just missed a weirdo here Sis.
Anyway, gotta go, my boss has offered to take me out to the Beau Rivage. Should be good so it looks like I’d better be. J
(who’s definitely NOT wearing her big knickers tonight)
POEM, HANDWRITTEN COPPERPLATE ON SCENTED PAPER.
DEDICATION READS “To Elspeth for being there”
Angel of Release
By John Rivers
Until she came the channels of my life
Choked with weeds
Grown in a mud of bitter regret
Keeping me clouded and stagnant
When she came the damm of my grief
Burst upon her breast
Flowed across the swell of her kindness
Freeing a torrent of need and desire
When I came the tide of my lust
Turned from ebb to flow
Flooding the harbour of her womb
Filling it with hope and new life
Until we came to the delta of our love
This River was bound
By the sluices of despair and grief
But rushes now to the wide salt sea