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The tragedy in revenge

                      Humiliation Was Paradise Lost, Revenge Was Paradise Regained.
Sometimes I felt I was a kind of Boswell to her Johnson, oh I know it is role reversal but that is how I ended up. A bloody Watson, a kind of stooge to her Holmes, oh I am aware these are literary references but so what, they are the best tools available for definition. So that’s what I am, a male secretary to her, with her power shoulders and her gym honed physique.
When she asked me to tidy up the apartment yesterday I went round there and I hung up her boxing gloves, moved the jewelled snuffbox from the edge of the vanity dresser; picked up the Stradivarius violin, well it looked like a Stradivarius and with her money. I continued to mooch around, one could see evidence of her penchant for pills in the bathroom. I picked up one of the phials thinking the pharma’ industry has a good client here, recondite chemistry indeed. So I placed it back amongst the other phials. I wandered back into the bedroom; something on the bedside table caught my eye. What is that, its cocaine, isn’t it?  I wet my index finger and dabbed it into the white powder and tasted it; well it wasn’t baking powder; the bitter sweet taste lingered. I had to rinse my mouth. Cocaine, so? I wasn’t going to lapse into moral superiority as if I had come upon the remnants of some depraved party; I would leave the moral high ground to others. I went back and dabbed the cocaine again, I was into titillation, not prurience.
I looked around the apartment, this was one of my duties; what have I ended up doing for money? I wasn’t going to vacuum the fucking place; just tidy it up. I head for her dresser where clothes were bundled in and hanging out of the drawers. How many bloody cashmere sweaters has she got, how many do you bloody well need. What’s this? My hand fell on something metal. What’s that, Jesus it’s a gun. Is that a toy? I pick it up, no; it is too heavy, so heavy it slipped from my hand back to being cushioned by the cashmeres. I looked at it. What if it had gone off and it had been and been heard by neighbours; the sound of a bang, a gunshot and meaning; what are the relations between sound and meaning? I am getting out of here and I am going to front her up about this.
Then the phone rang, that touch of estuary in the accent, it was her.                                                                                     “Do you know what that bastard has done to me?” For a moment my mind flitted through her phalanx of beaus and ex husbands, it was three, no two.                                                                                                                                       “I am really going to get him for this, I really am.”                                                                                                         “Sorry, who are you talking about?”                                                                                                                                     “Who do you think, Keith!”  Right, that was the two husbands ago person.                                                                         “So what has he done now?                                                                                                                                                       She sounded tearful. “He has exposed me, that’s what.”                                                                                                My first thought was the newspapers. “Sorry, in what way”                                                                                         “Photos, pictures, do I have to spell it out. I am going to get the bastard for this. He has been touting personal photos of me I am going to get that cunt.” She was breathing hard; “I can hardly describe how I feel; finish in the apartment now! and get down here.”                                                                                                                    “Calm down, for goodness sake.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           “Ok Brain Box you tell me how I deal with this.” This was a difficult situation, what was needed was clarity of thought, yes, lightly carried erudition. I mean that is what I was bloody well employed for; filched from the world of academia; I was a tenured hermeneute then a legal beaver, who sold out for money to be a male PA to this high powered entrepreneur. But after all this preparation all I could offer in the real world was the lame:”Don’t do anything rash, I will be there shortly.”
I triple locked the front door and hurried down the lushly carpeted staircase thinking of Keith of ‘Keef’ as he designated himself. How I remembered him, a ducker and diver, even his aliases had criminal records. A dark figure around her at that time, hovering in the background. ‘Keef’, her ex, what had he been? A soldier, smuggler, thief, acrobat, convict, car dealer, a charismatic mixture of affability and intimidation and my past, well, humdrum in comparison. Oh, I know comparisons are odious but that doesn’t stop me making them.                                                                                                                                                     
We hummed along Knightsbridge in her Facel Vega; “See how that cunt cut me up there...I tell you, they always do it to me in this jam jar.”                                                                                                                                                                      “Steady on, you are getting into an absolute state.”                                                                                                    “Aaabsolute state’ she mocked me, “I employed you for that...your accent, your presentation skills, more fool me.”                                                                                                                                                                                   I thought of the gun and felt like saying, well, stop the bloody car and I will get out right now, but I was under a contract that would test the powers of an escapologist. She looked across at me. I felt my academic credentials crumble in the face of her street knowledge look.                                                                                                                                                 “Don’t get the hump, I was only joking, I employed you because you have enough bloody degrees to paper a wall.”                                                                                                                                                                                 “Sometimes I think you employed me because you thought I could walk through walls.”                                               I hesitated, “That gun you have in your apartment, is that real?”                                                                                                                                   She jerked the wheel of the car; someone hooted, she hooted back, “Fuck wanker.’ Oh, you found that?”                                                                                                                            “Yes.”                                                                                                                                                                                              “So, of course it is real. What did you think it was a water pistol?”                                                                                                                                                               “Is it licensed?”                                                                                                                                              “Licensed?... no, a friend gave it to me, just in know a woman living alone in a desirable residence, London has changed, it’s no longer the Waterloo Sunset of the Kinks.                                                                  I couldn’t disagree with the inference even if it was before my era. It was time to don my legal hat as I endeavoured to earn my ‘wedge’ as she would have it, after all, that’s the main reason she employed me. Besides, I was good at this. “I agree that is a pretty shameful thing he has done to you but there is the legal process...I mean you mustn’t let this...desire for revenge cloud your judgement. The legal system can be your mode of revenge. That’s what the legal system is for, to restore civil order, you know, a pattern of reassurance, it restores intelligibility in situations like this.”                                                                                            “I thought it was there to make educated people like you rich.”                                                                         “Alright, alright...but what about the legal route?”                                                                                                             “And how long is that going to take, Professor?”                                                                                           I was getting impatient with this; “So what are you going to do?”                                                                                                                  “I know what I am going to do.”                                                                                                                         I’d seen this before; experienced it myself; the revenger’s intent; she was just not envisioning the consequences, neither did I.                                                                                                               “Have you thought of the consequences?”                                                                                                         “Fuck the consequences.” I wasn’t going to move her, not now; revenge was uppermost with no thought of the aftermath.                                                                                                                                                   “Look I am afraid your thinking is just not complete on this.”                                                                                                                    “It is very complete, believe me.” But I knew it was arbitrary.                                                             “Did that cunt think of the consequences when he did that to me? Humiliated me in that way. He humiliated me!”  The car smoothed on towards Hyde Park Corner.                                                                                                                   I had been in this situation before as I thought of the role of humiliation in revenge.  I recalled the case where I had expounded in Court’ in that Wildean way; the Irish in me, the land of my birth, you know, Ireland! that country that exports culture not guns. I rather proudly recalled my rhetoric. ‘Our potential for humiliation is at the root of morality. But how hurt we are by being diminished. We think we are embedded in a ‘moral’ world until we are humiliated. And when we are humiliated we find out what really matters to us. Indeed, and here I would lapse into the grandiloquent, a tic, a failure on my it is around this experience of humiliation that some of us organise our moral lives; and by the same token, even our past the stories we might remember of our past is recalled by our experiences of humiliation. At its worst, humiliation over-organises memory, and rigidifies morality: But how can we overcome this human failing, where humiliation forecloses our thinking? How can we elaborate and go beyond what humiliation arrests. Post humiliation we need to recuperate and forestall the medicine of our revenge.’                                                                                                                                                                                                               God, I was good. I really was. I should have gone into politics, I really should. And why have I ended up here, doing this, I was disbarred, drummed out of the legal partnership for that innocuous act. Did the partners report it to the police, no, I would have known by now.  Anyway, ‘I couldn’t give a rat’s fuck’ as she would delicately put it. So I wanted revenge too, against them, against the world, against that subsequent endless lack of recognition.                                                                                                                                      Now I looked at her, feeling I had been away from this current dilemma for years; there she sat, her face set, just that bit too much eye-liner; the hands bulging; gripping the wheel too tightly, so as the veins stood out like purple tributaries. When I first met her I was struck by her. What was it? Yes, her catholicity of taste if I can put it that Irish way and that seemingly insatiable curiosity, I presumed that’s why she was so successful. Around such people, how can I put it? I longed to be manlier, whatever that meant. When I was drummed out of the legal partnership, she, when others wouldn’t, had employed me, put me under a water tight contract that Houdini couldn’t extricate himself from. She had been attracted to me, and after a couple of dinners to discuss the job, she employed me.                                                               “Your humiliation with those legal bigwigs is nothing compared to this, I am a woman, you know...and to be humiliated like this...I can hardly speak.” But words were not necessary.  I looked at her now, the vengeful face, like most revenger’s, once humiliated they know what their life is for; the humiliation had become a pure gift of meaning. Revenge was their vocation, well, that’s how it was for me. Look at her face set in revenge, her new vocation her only question is how: how am going to carry this out?                                                                  But you have to be a terrible optimist to believe it is going to work out.  I looked at her sitting there, fuming, brow knitted in perplexity trying to make sense out of her humiliation, her abasement. But I could see her intent, her life had meaning, it was called revenge                                                                                                                                         “I will get even with him, I really will.”                                                                                                                    “I would put this on ice, I really would. Do not take any action, yet.”                                                                                         “He has been touting photos of me, how many fucking times do I have to tell you. Do you not get it, the humiliation, do you not fucking geddit?”                                                                            I thought of my own humiliation with her; our truncated affair, what had been affronted? Well order had been affronted, the order of my conception of myself as a ‘man’ you know. Look at her now, the vessels on her neck bulging in rage; we all have a sense of order...of what is right. We live in a morally coherent society and he besmirched her; broke her fragile world of order.                                                                                                                                          Now I donned the wig and got back on the pedantic; “Can I ask what the photos...contained. Of what nature were they?” She gave me a furious look, “Well, can I ask were they compromising? “                                                                                                                                                      “Compromising? whatever, the fuck does that means yes, yes, yes. they were bang to far as I can remember. You might be even in them yourself; you know making a guest appearance.” I felt something move around my sphincter.                                                  “Do I have to spell it out to you, you’re a blood hound aren’t you; that’s why I took you on. So how are we going to deal with this tosser.”                                                                        “Keith”?                                                                                                                                                                          “Yes, Keef” I never should have had nothing to with him. More fool me. Look can we stop here.”                                                                                                                                            “What’s wrong?”                                                                                                                                                           “I feel I am going to have a ‘panic attack’, I think I am having a ‘panic attack’.”                                               “Well...slow down your breathing... just... breathe slowly, in for four and out for four.” I offered like some infant school teacher.                                                                                                                                                                    “Thank you, oh fuck, I feel my life is over and if I don’t get him for this...”                                                 “Let’s just get out of this car and calm down” I parroted out,                                                                              Now we stood there the car clumsily parked with two wheels on the verge, her with her murderous intent dealing with her panic attack and me like her Praetorian Guard, her consignialore, as if we were extras in some stupid Hollywood gangster movie. We stood there, she pathetically trying to regulate her breathing and me trying to think of another clever, earn my keep, thing to say. Now two very assured looking young women as lean as their horses clopped towards us. From their height of their seventeen hands or whatever, they looked at us askance as they clip clopped past.                                                                                                     “Are you ok?”                                                                                                                                                            “Yeah, it’s passed, I think...thanks.” Post panic her look of vengefulness was returning, she was slowly metamorphosing back to being purpose incarnate. Still I remembered how I felt when it happened to me, I was God like in my intent as I bestrode the world plotting  my revenge,  I was like some omnipotent deity in human form. I really was.                                                                                                                                                            “You go on yer way, go on. I’m OK now. You can get on the tube to Putney at South Ken’. Go on.”                                                                                                                                          “Will you be alright?” She looked pathetically vulnerable and I wanted to put my arms around her, hold her tightly, and protect her against the vagaries of this world.                                                                                                                                           “Yeah, yeah, fine.”                                                                                                                                         “Sure?”                                                                                                                                                            “I’m fine.”                                                                                                                                                     I had to say this before leaving her in that state. “Look, that gun.”                                                                          “Shhs, keep your voice down.” An elderly jogger padded by, took in the clumsily parked Facel Vega and gave us a suspicious glance. She waited till he was out of earshot.                                                                                                                                                       “Forget the... gun, will you, I told you I am fine.”                                                                                                     “In law, you can’t disseminate pictures of people in that way, there are legal consequences.                          “He is beyond the law.”                                                                                                                                  “No, one is.”                                                                                                                                              “Let’s not argue...I really am very tired.”  I felt very sorry of her.                                                                                                   “Why don’t you go and spend a couple of days with your old Mum in...Gillingham is it?”    “Rochester. I’ll think about it.”                                                                                                                       Beyond her, in the distance the Serpentine was visible with the few tourist boats dotting the lake.  “Ok, Ok. Right well it is a difficult time but just take it easy, bit by bit, so bon courage” I felt it a was a poncy thing to say, but you know. So I put a tentative reassuring hand on her shoulder. She looked at me, and I at her, we both seem mystified as if we could not comprehend that we had once been lovers, once.

After I left her, I toed it past the sculptured extravagances of the Albert Memorial, rounded the circularity of the Albert Hall and was soon in Emperor’s Gate, Emperors making me think of Rome. I counted the people that nearly bumped into me as they ambled along heads bent examining their mobiles, was it four, no three. When I got to the busy entry to South Kensington station everybody appeared to have heads bent as if in devotion or prayer to technology. Rome popped into my head again, yes, Imperium Rōmānum, 1500 year of rule, over most of the then world; the offerings from those conquered nobly accepted as were the pledging of allegiances from those vanquished. OK, call me a Luddite if your will, but look at them, like so many pigeons heads bowed pecking in devotion. Yes, paying tribute to the new Rome, that small strip of land called Silicon Valley in Northern California, the new Rome to all us plebeian slaves. The chosen Senators in our new Rome, a handful of sun kissed billionaire wunderkinds, the Emperors of this new Rome.                                                                                                                  When I made it to my two bed roomed flat in Putney, bought for half a mil’ in more gainfully employed times and in anticipation of that ideal woman to share it with, I turned on the ‘box and started forking into my Chicken Kurma take away. Soon, stupefied by the banality on the television I hit the remote control. It was dark by now; should I phone her? Best if I do. But there was no answer. Well, I had done my duty. She seemed alright, so I turned on the electric blanket and got under the duvet.   
After the usual equipoise type debate of whether I should sleep on my left side or my right, I flumped up the pillows and settled down.                                                                                          Soon I had my wig on and there was a Judge declaiming to me in Court:                                                      The law is not here to blow its own is here to assure and persuade us that there is something called law and order, and that it works; whereas this woman in the dock, the accused, simplified her action by becoming the judge and to having a victim; the retribution that was enacted by your client was the soul of revenge and served to give her violence definition.’                                                                                                                                         ‘I would submit, M’Lud, that consequences must be taken into account in regard to the actions the accused took and I would crave your consideration on this matter and ask for the courts leniency for I would submit, however esoteric this may sound, the accused was like all revenger’s fait acompli with time.’                                                                                                                                                    ‘And how could that be, may I ask, besides, is it relevant?’                                                                                                                     ‘Well, if I might be permitted to elucidate, M’Lud?’                                                                         ‘Proceed.’                                                                                                                                  ‘The revenger knows the future, for he, or she in this instance has done a deal with time; for after the accused’s humiliation the future became full of horrifying promise, the future for her was the redemption of revenge.’                                                                                                                              ‘Your client could have looked forward to the future; like most people, feeling that time would heal. But she chose to scourge her humiliation of its shame by an act of revenge. I accept your client felt she had been abased and no doubt she had been?’                                                                                           ‘Indeed M’Lud and such reflection of what had been done to her or may have been further done to her was unbearable, and against the unbearable, I would submit M’Lud, there is only one course of action...’                                                                                                                                          ‘And what was that, Counsel?                                                                                                                             ‘Revenge.'                                                                                                                                 ‘Your client concocted this revenge did she not?’                                                                                 ‘She did M'Lud but it was a desperate means to reinforce her sense of control.’                                 ‘Elaborate on that, Counsel.’                                                                                                       ‘We all have, I would submit, in our heads, a secure sense of our sovereignty; there is a form of rule, of monarchy in our heads and the revenger is particularly sovereign in his or her certainty. When this sense of self is undermined, or humiliated, the revenger might be said to become a ... how I can put it...a crazed epistemologist.’                                                                                            ‘Some elaboration for the jury might be helpful here, Counsel.’                                          ’Epistemology is what we deem to be knowledge. This revenger, this woman, perceived what has been done to her as knowledge.’                                                                                     ‘Well no one is doubting that.’                                                                                                           ‘I am grateful to M’Lud, however I would ask the jury to consider this; of  how the revenger becomes and must become a kind of aesthetician; this woman, by necessity indulged in drama as she carefully plotted her future actions. For the wronged, I would submit, turn ‘memories’ into vindictive drama, for revenge is essentially aesthetic.’                                                                                                                      ‘A little further explaining to the Jury, if you would.’                                                                                                                    ‘As M’Lud wishes. Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, the revenge act has to be composed, staged and performed. For the plot to ‘work’ it has to be thought out, and so the revenger must weigh the pre-emptive strike against deferring gratification. You might say the revenger, is a very ‘connected’ person: after her humiliation this woman felt she owed an affiliation, a loyalty to herself, to her sullied person.’                                                            ‘Well revenge in the view of this court is a fig leaf, for in solving the problem it creates another.’                                                                                                                                           ‘But the revenger does not think like that, once humiliated this woman’s thinking became apocalyptic there was only one thought in her mind, an ending to this...this dreadful humiliation. For her suddenly everything had an aura of meaning about it, her actions it might be said to seem plotted by somebody else, although there is no history of mental instability in my client, there was none the less a reassuring inevitability about the ending of  her pain. She was led on by the promise, the promise of surturing that open wound, that open wound of humiliation.                                                                                                                                     ‘Well, nobly put, Counsel...’                                                                                                       ‘M’Lud, if I may, finally...this woman felt she could no longer obey the rules, she became the rules for she was prepared to die for her sense of justice; the revenger’s reciprocity.’                                                                                                 ‘Well I would say to you and members of the jury not to be unduly influenced by the bizarre logic of revenge for it does nothing but create the problem it is trying to absolve. I now sentence you Counsel and the accused to be taken from this Court and...’                                               I jumped up, bathed in sweat. What the...what is going on. I felt the perspiration on my neck, my chest, my back; was that the dream or did I leave the blanket on? What the...where the fuck am I...oh Christ, calm down, calm down; such a vivid...such a vivid dream. Too early to ring her, no, I am going to ring answer, why don’t people answer their phones. I rang her again before and after the scoffed coffee and toast and as I went down the stairs. I felt she was being perverse and cruel in not answering.                                                                                                                Fog greeted me as I opened the front door, I could hardly make out the paving slabs on the footpath, it was very dense, a real pea souper, in Dickens language. All that was needed in this fog was drawn carriages and horse manure. I kept returning to the dream, I thought I had acquitted myself well, defending her in Holmesian speak was no easy task; no two pipe solution. Now I was talking to myself like some heavy breathing narrator. Maybe I should write that dream down, no, no, it would come out like textual chloroform.                                                                                                             The third world tube ride to Knightsbridge was as claustrophobic as ever. I goose stepped up the escalator and began, I don’t know why, half running towards her apartment which was on an approach road to Harrods and as I rounded the corner I saw the two police cars. I stopped hurrying along because it somehow smacked of guilt. I nodded towards the police and mounted the steps to her apartment building, keys at the ready.                                                                  “Excuse me, sir.”  I looked round at the Police Officer advancing towards me.                                   “Can I enquire, are you a resident?”                                                                                                    “No, no, I am just going to visit someone.”                                                                                     “And who might that be?” and he gave a long look at the keys in my hand. “Mo...’ ...apartment  11.”                                                                                                                              “Could you step this way, Sir. You are not a relative of this woman and here he displayed a printed page with her name on it, Maureen...?”                                                                                                          “No, no, I work for her, why...what’s happened?”                                                                               “I am afraid there was an incident last night...”                                                                               “An incident, what kind of incident?”                                                                                          “There was a shooting incident in Camberwell in the early hours of this morning; there are two victims, both deceased, we believe, one is your employer and a Mr Keith...”                        “What...what, Jeeesus!”                                                                                                                            “We believe the woman shot the man and then turned the weapon on herself as it was in her hand when discovered...we will need forensics on this of course.”                                                         ‘My God, my God...oh my God.’                                                                                                ‘Steady yourself now, sir. Constable, get this man a cup of tea.’

c. Peter Cheevers

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