Saturday, 23 June 2007

The Secret

Frank had always wanted to understand the secret of life. He felt sure there was one. Something like a trick for getting by, making the whole thing more like a movie, a good dream. He had heated debates in pubs, with friends, with family. Generally people older than Frank thought Frank was naive about the whole thing. Frank thought they were old, sad, and suffering unnecessarily, they were accepting bad beds and lying in them. Frank wanted out, Frank wanted success, Frank believed in life. Frank, was hunting for the secret.

But life could be likened to a battle, and a battle is war, and war is won quite often by attrition, and life is good at attrition, life has been here longer, will be here longer, has more resources, and generally in the end, it wears you down and it wins.

It was inevitable that eventually Frank would come to wonder if the rest of the world wasn't right. Life was hard, success came through work and more work and even then it wasnt guaranteed. Money, well you could maybe get some but never enough. Love, and all the things Frank desired, they all seemed to remain out of his reach. The secret remained out of his reach.

By the time Frank was 25 he was starting to understand that his grand idea was not producing results. When he made 30 things began to get on top of him. He wondered about the choices he had made in life. At 40 the truth began to dawn on him, the bravado of youth had all but slipped away, life had closed around about him and he was navigating on a path he was unable to change. A path that was going nowhere. The secret had eluded him.

He began to spend nights in, writing, thinking, trying to figure out if he had missed a turn somewhere down the road, how he had managed to slip up despite all his good intentions. He looked, but he couldnt see where he had gone wrong. He still believed, somewhere in all of it lay a secret, he just needed to find it.

Maybe it was in the way one approached each day, or maybe it was in saying positive things and holding them in mind, or maybe it was in ritual and rites that brought luck to your door, or maybe it was in the energy that held the very molecules that bound his body together. He felt sure it was there, somewhere, he just hadnt found it yet. Hadnt figured it out. It had become his obsession to find the secret.

Franks 45th birthday was spent in a park on the edges of London, alone, it was September but the air had about it a cold that bit his skin slightly through the worn green jumper he had on. He wondered where he should try to sleep that night, the park was dangerous after dark but he was tired of the hostel, full of sick and disturbed people, they coughed and spluttered, farted. They stank of the streets and fermenting alcohol bought cheap. He got up from the bench, pulled a small bottle of whisky from his pocket and nipped at it. It brought some respite. He wasnt an alcoholic it just helped to keep the edges of the pain softened. He hit it again and put it away, then started walking out of the park, he didnt yet know where he was headed.

He'd left his job months before, left his girl too and the house they had owned. Somehow he had pulled himself together enough to make a life for himself but in making it, he had realised that inside something still remained incomplete. The perfect nature of the world that surrounded him; his home, his love, his secure job, just seemed to taunt him until he fell into a depression like none he had ever known. He stopped going out, stopped shaving, stopped talking to her, and pretty soon the insomnia that came to keep him company through the nights, cost him his job. That was when the fighting began. It didnt take long before he left. Now, strangely maybe, living on the streets he felt better. He didnt have to bend his nature to a routine that didnt suit him. He had hoped it would give him time to start looking for the secret again but he discovered that all his time and energy was spent just trying to survive, to find a meal, to find a safe place to sleep.

He trudged through the night, the worn shoes scuffed in his tired gait. He was tired of it all. He was 45 and washed up. He couldnt go back, and forward there was only emptiness, death. He knew this, he understood it more keenly than anything in the world. He could taste it every day. Hear it in the gurgle of his hungry belly and smell it in the old and musty tang that greeted his nostrils when he awoke. He was decaying and all he could do was watch it happen and wait, wait for death to set him free.

Frank turned a corner and continued walking on, through eternal city streets that lead in circles. He heard the voices of drunken people, he guessed it was near closing time from the bars. He moved right down a side alley so he could escape the sneers or cruel comments that surely would come from people, those who were making it in the world he had failed in. He heard a noise behind him but only half turned in reaction to it before a thud dulled his senses and he was gone.

'Fucking shame' said the girl who had worked in the hospice, she had known Frank, always wanted to help him but you couldnt help those guys, the bums, they needed help but it wasnt the sort another human could ever give.

'Yea no one showed for the funeral. I couldnt believe it, you would have thought at least someone from his family would have come' Said one of the voluntary workers who had attended the service. He was a religious man and he felt he was doing his bit for the down and outs to be a presence at the send offs. He secretly got a kick out of it, maybe it reminded him that he was ok.

'I think he disowned them, he never stayed in touch, I guess he did it to himself, still he is probably better off now' Said the warden on duty.

They all three sat quietly sipping at coffee the girl had just fetched. They all for a brief moment thought about Frank, it could have been the last time for all eternity that anyone would. Then a buzzer sounded and the girl looked at a screen showing a CCTV black and white grainy image of a guy shuffling outside a door.

'It's George, let him in, probably been kicked out of the ward again for not taking his lithium' And the circus of the evening at the local shelter for homeless began as it did every night.

It was 6 months later when I walked into the park that Frank had left that night. I was smarting from a fight with my girlfriend, kept looking at my mobile phone but she was keeping hers switched off, just to spite me I guessed. I was rattled more by her ability to play me out than by our arguments, I figured it wouldnt be long before one of us ended it, still it bit into me, like the cold on that March morning. I breathed out and watched the fog form and drift away in the air. I lent back on the bench and let my arms flop down behind it. My fingers brushed against something back there and I looked with a turn of my head. Moving the dirt away gently I saw it was something wrapped in a clear plastic bag, I was intrigued and pulled it out to find a red hard back book inside. For a moment I forgot my woes and felt the excitement of a mystery gulp up into my throat, it seemed such an odd thing to discover in the dirt of a public park. I opened the book and read the top lines of the first page;

'My name is Frank Clovett, and this book is all I possess in the world. Into it I am going to pour the last remaining thoughts of a man who is basically dying. I am dying, I know it is coming for me, I can feel it. I dont mind. In fact I welcome it. I spent my life trying to understand life, to find a secret I felt sure existed in it's intricate design. In the end I figured it out, but it has cost me, at least in this life. I am tired, I am worn out, and I dont have the energy or the inclination to fight with this body and mind anymore. Someone is going to find this book one day and to them I leave my legacy of knowledge. I was just a bum, a homeless loser on the streets, that was the price I paid for my prize. It was a worthwhile price. By the time you read this, I will be gone from this life, but by the time you finish reading this you will understand why that is not something you should pity, but something to celebrate. It is ironic that to all who saw me I looked like the pitiful failure, the truth was in the end I was the perfect success. This is a gift, it has found you, and though you dont know it yet, you are the luckiest son of a bitch that walked this earth. Let me begin to tell you why...'

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