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Not the Boy, Nor the Man
by Mike Hickman



The funny man on the television tried to persuade Coronation Street Pipkins lady to take off her clothes and Richard stopped laughing.

They were upstairs, in his bedroom, the funny man and the Pipkins lady. With “the wife” away, there ought to have been plenty of opportunity for the kind of activity the funny man had in mind. With his secretary. Instead, he was sweating and trembling and not at all in control of what was happening. Even though he had asked for it to happen.

Richard knew that much about the situation, even then.

“You knew what was going on?” Jude asked.

Richard nodded. “Oh, yes.”

“On the television, I mean. You knew what they were doing?”

“It was only a BBC sit com. It was hardly likely to get all explicit.”

This wasn’t quite true. Richard’s memory of the scene was that the funny man actually had persuaded the woman from the soap opera and the kiddies’ puppet series to take her blouse off. And that had been a shock. Of course it had. That wasn’t how she presented herself to Hartley Hare of a lunchtime on ITV. And neither was it acceptable on the cobbles of Corrie.

“Even so.”

The real shock came when Richard decided he had to put himself through it; he had to find the programme, watch it, go back there. And there was YouTube, wasn’t there? And he found the moment, the exact moment, and he steeled himself. And nothing of the kind happened. Barely a button had been undone. There had been no fleshy unveiling. So what did that say about his head, then? And why would he want to share it with another human being?

“But, yes,” Richard said. “I knew what he was after. I knew that.”

Jude crossed her legs, tapped the pristine, unchewed Biro against her teeth, and once again did not glance round at the clock behind her. “What else do you remember of the room?” she asked. “Beyond the television?”

If he had been wrong about the sitcom scene, then he could well be wrong about the room. Richard shuffled in the hard, plastic seat that had him thinking back to his old primary school classroom. Back to Mrs Stone and her incomprehension at anything he might ever have said about his home life. So he had learned to stop saying anything. Until now. Until here. Until Jude.

“It was dark,” he said. “Homely. Ish.” The telly – and didn’t it always come back to the telly with his upbringing? – was part of a wall cabinet. And that was strange, even exotic. A wall cabinet or a bookcase designed with a shelf precisely big enough, deep enough, to hold a telly.

Beyond the television,” Jude repeated. “What else did you notice?”

“She had books,” Richard said, the chair creaking as he redistributed his weight yet again. And yet there was no getting away from Jude’s eyes. “In the way…” And this would sound strange, he knew, but he said it all the same. “In the way we didn’t.”

The one he could remember was the E-number book because, back then, everyone had the E-number book. You couldn’t turn on the television without seeing its bold cover somewhere and hearing someone prattling about the dangers of additives.

It was weird. Weirder even than anything else that strange night, perhaps, but he’d seen that book, and he’d thought about its owner, and he’d realised what that said about its owner – that she had a life and interests of her own – and he’d felt even more like the intruder he was. He should not have been there. Not that night. Not any night.

“It wasn’t your responsibility, though, Richard, was it? You were brought there.”

Yes, on that occasion. It hadn’t been his choice. That’s where they had begun.

“There were photos, too,” he said.


Maybe that’s why they always chose such impersonal rooms for sessions like these, Richard thought to himself. Knowing that he wasn’t really in a position to know anything much about sessions like these. Until today. But perhaps that was why there was so little on the walls, apart from what he took to be damp stains around the peeling paint. Perhaps that was why the furniture looked like it had been brought in from the local dump. You couldn’t attach it to any one owner. You couldn’t be reminded.

“Photos?” Jude prompted, so very patiently.

Richard’s eyes came down from the empty walls. “Family photographs,” he said, not adding his thoughts about long ago smiles and arms around shoulders and sunlit days out and things to talk about for years to come. 

Maybe that’s why she hadn’t needed a big TV. He wished he’d been given a name for her. Another thing that felt wrong.

“Her family?” Jude prompted.

Richard nodded.

“And you felt guilty?” Jude asked.

He almost asked her how she knew. But she was the expert. She probably had a certificate she could have hung up on the wall, if she’d been the type who needed  a piece of paper to prove her credentials.

“Should you?” Jude asked.

Richard thought about the sweating and the trembling. There hadn’t been any of that on the way over. Oh, he’d known something was up. The nineteen to the dozen talking. The “usual stories”, he might have said, if only they were usual. He’d probably heard them only three or four times in the whole thirteen years before they had been silenced for good; before he had been silenced from ever talking about them, too.

But would it have mattered if he had known what was in mind? Why they were heading out there to some strange woman’s house? What he was being asked to do, sitting there in front of her TV while the householder was otherwise occupied?

Upstairs, he was sure of it, as far as his memory could be sure about anything.

With his Dad.

Was it right that he felt guilty about it now, all these years later? That he had been there that night, when that night was one of many nights? When he couldn’t have done anything about it.

Jude tapped the Biro against her perfect teeth. Backlit by the summer sun slicing through the dusty, rusted NHS blinds, she presented a level of distraction that Richard hadn’t wanted. Although perhaps one that would keep him honest. Because he knew the thoughts, even if she didn’t. Yet.

“How old were you, Richard, that night?” Jude asked.

And this was the moment he’d rehearsed in the waiting room. He’d tell her the burden he’d carried all these years. The secret he’d been asked to keep, even if it hadn’t remained a secret for much longer. Not when mum found the letters and then had it out with dad that night when John Lennon Live in New York was on the telly. That had been a final live performance, too. Funny the things you choose to remember.

This was the moment when he got to say how old he’d been that night. How young he’d been, too. And she’d nod and she’d shake her head and she’d help him exorcise it. Or whatever passed for exorcism in her strange profession.

This was the moment he’d tell her that he’d only been seven years old.

When the funny man on the television tried to persuade Coronation Street Pipkins lady to take her clothes off. When he’d known what he was up to. When he’d stopped laughing.


Richard knew there was only one way to get comfortable, not just in this chair, but any chair.

It had to be said.

“I was seven that night,” he told Jude, before putting up his hand, forcing himself to continue. “But it’s really another night I need to talk about.” Because, in some strange way, he thought, it was the same night, wasn’t it? That’s why he kept coming back to that room, that night, that boy sitting there comprehending all too much about the situation.


Richard noticed the blue eye shadow above the unblinking eyes. His dad, damn him, would have noticed the blue eye shadow.

“Yeah,” he said. “Another night, but pretty much the same room…”

And now the lid of the Biro came off.

“And I was thirty seven years old,” he said.




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