The Low Hundreds

It occurred to me one day that maybe

Things were meant to be better.

I went to the surgery on Cathedral Road,

Number a hundred and ten, a hundred and twenty:

Somewhere in the low hundreds.

At this surgery you don’t make an appointment

You just turn up, and wait.

And I later found out it’s like that because it’s

An emergency surgery.

And so when you go there,

The doctors take for granted -

Their basic assumption is -

That you are in an emergency situation.

The doctor says, how can I help you today?

And I say well it’s just I don’t feel... enough.

The doctor says, a-huh.

And can you tell me how long you’ve been not feeling like this?

I mean I can’t remember.

I tell him I don’t know it’s surfaced

It feels like it’s surfaced in me somehow this -

- pain, the doctor says.

No, I tell him, not pain, it’s more like a hope

That something is not quite right.

Because I -

- I’ve got this

She’s not my wife but we’re, you know, it’s very good.

It’s very happy and good and I’m lucky and

We’re very settled and we’re trying for a kid and

It’s hard to stay in a good mood.

Or any mood at all.

All the time he’s there this doc just

Scribbling away not looking at me,

Writing more words than I’m saying.

I say to him doc I know it’s a bit... vague.

But is there anything you can do to help.

Because this lack of feeling -

- I think I could be enjoying a higher quality of life.

That’s all.

I wonder if things are meant to be

A little more... vivid.

I’m taking for granted that I’ve spoken the code

That gets me the prozac or some chemical prozac clone

But instead

I am subjected

To a barrage of tests.

It starts with blood pressure.

Height, weight, a saliva swab.

A sweat sample from under my arm.

I have to pass water

Into a cardboard cup.

It doesn’t stop with the physical.

That’s the easiest bit, it turns out.

Then there are - questions.

About me.

He asks, what were you thinking about, on your way here.

I tell him - traffic. The traffic was bad, I was thinking about... that.

He asks, what’s in the news at the moment?

I tell him -

I tell him -

- someone... famous

Has gotten... divorced?

He says, what else.

I tell him -

- I don’t hear a lot of news at the moment.

He asks me how I feel about my girlfriend.

So I tell him how I feel about my girlfriend?

I tell him I love her.

I love my girlfriend.

Of course I do. We’re trying to have a child together.

He asks me -

- what I think that means.

I don’t answer this.

He asks me to name some other things I love.

I say: my mother, my dad,

My brother, my sister, my friends, my really good friends at least -

He says yes but those are all people.

He says - now tell me the names of some things

That you would say you love.

And of course - looking back.

Looking back,

He was taking it that I was in

An emergency situation.

Because I’d come to this particular surgery

He assumed an emergency was going on.

And of course there wasn’t.

And so I tell him, I love -

I’ve just got this new computer

This new iMac and it’s beautiful.

It does so many things so smoothly

And it just looks so fucking good on my desk

And yes I -

- I love it.

And I love my phone.

Not because it can do a million groovy things

But because I grew up watching Star Trek and Blake’s Seven

And they all had personal communicators and I wanted one too

And now I’ve got one. In my pocket.

And I love that little bit of science fiction becoming real.

I love my garden.

I’ve only recently acquired one.

For years there’ve been all these gardening shows on TV

And now I am a garden-owner

And I feel so... included.

And I love

A really well-made latte.

With a double shot at the bottom

Melting its way through that creamy froth

It’s like a meal in itself.

It’s like nourishment.

I love that.

The doctor has stopped taking notes.

He’s just looking at me.

And he stares at me for a while even after

I stop talking, and then he

Coughs, and looks quickly away.

He says, that’s excellent. That’s really great.

Now I’m going to phone the lab

And see if I can’t hurry them along

And get your results for you today.

In the meantime, he tells me,

Why don’t you go for a walk

Or a drive

Or a coffee.

And there it is again - you see?

That assumption of urgency.

I stop in at Brava’s and get

A latte to go and then head up Cardiff Road

And toward

What d’they call it -

- the country.

And the lights are with me all the way

Till I’m in the middle of Llandaff

And that’s just


And then I have to stop to let pedestrians

Go on with their lives

And as I’m stopped there I take a sip from my coffee

Because I’ve been delaying the pleasure

For as long as I can and

They’ve done it wrong.

This happens more and more at Brava’s now.

You walk in, you ask for a latte to go and you get

A regular coffee, but with milk.

A milky coffee.

When what you want is latte.

Of course this never happens when you’re eating in.

Because they know what would result.

So I’m driving through the countryside

And it’s all... fields and hills.

Valleys slotted in between the hills, obviously.

And there are flowers, and trees, and

I really should have gone back to Brava’s,

And had it out with them because this coffee thing

It’s tormenting me now.

I mean I can see, just about,

How in a busy, noisy work environment

I could ask for a cafe latte

And the server behind the counter could think I’d said

‘Cafe au lait’ but really -

- I mean it’s fairly clear.

There’s that hard ‘t’ sound in the middle of ‘laa-tay’

Which is just wholly absent from ‘au lait’

So I’m not quite sure how I’ve ended up with this certain, quiet outrage.

And a cup of cold, milky coffee.

I pour the the coffee away

Down a gutter on Cathedral Road.

I crush the paper cup in my hand,

And sit down in the consulting room

And a man comes in behind me.

Not the doctor.

A man.

He says nothing.

He goes to the window.

He looks out.

He says - nothing to me.

The doctor comes in,

And smiles

And I have a feeling -

- finally.

The doctor says, well, the results have come through.

That was very quick, I tell him.

The doctor looks at me.

He says, please, Mr Jones,

You have to take this seriously.

I hadn’t realised I wasn’t doing

Precisely that.

The doctor says, Mr Jones,

This lack of feeling you’ve noticed.

This - disconnection.

It’s all very simple.

I’m glad to hear that, I tell him.

Mr Jones, he says - you’re a psychopath.

The guy at the window turns.

Not all the way round, he still seems like he’s

Gazing at the car park

But he turns just enough that he can watch me

Monitor me

Out the corner of his eye.

Mr Jones, the doctor says.

Well of course, I tell him.

Of course I’m a psychopath.

That explains everything, doesn’t it.

I’m very glad, the doctor goes, that you’re able to admit

Your condition.

I’m not admitting it, I tell him. I was being sarcastic.

Really, the doctor says. Because I didn’t pick up on that.

And an inability to use non-literal forms of expression,

That’s a common symptom of fairly deep psychopathology.

He looks at me.

He says to me -

- you want to say that you feel entirely normal, don’t you?

I nod, because - obviously that is what I want to say.

And the doctor goes - well I’m afraid you’re wrong.

You feel like a psychopath.

How you feel, is how a psychopath feels.

Normal people feel differently to how you feel.

We’ve done the tests.

We know.

I get up at this point.

I get up and I’m voicing thoughts about second opinions

And the guy by the window

Walks over

Puts his hand on my shoulder

And pushes me back down into the seat.

I say to the guy, you have no right to do that to me.

And the guy says:


That last


The doctor says, Mr Jones, I’ll admit,

You have learned to use language,

Very much in the way a human does.

You have learned that making certain patterns of noises

Will achieve for you certain effects.

You have learned that the noise-pattern

‘I’ll have a latte to go, please’ will get you a takeaway coffee.

You have learned that the pattern

‘I need to see a doctor’ will get you medical attention.

You have learned that the pattern

‘I know I’m an idiot sometimes but I love you very much’

Will pacify a lover or partner for life.

You use these sound-patterns almost like a human does

It’s a fantastic testament to your - animal cunning

And something we should study in greater depth.

I’m not sure I’m happy with the way this is going, I tell him.

And yes of course, he says. Now you are making noises that

In the past have helped you escape from difficult situations.

But, he says, today I’m afraid we

Cannot allow you to leave.

And the man by the window

Comes and stands

Between me and the door.

The problem is, the doctor says, that you experience a very thin,

And cruelly impoverished version of reality.

You see an arrangement of variously coloured planes,

Where I would see an open, welcoming human face.

You see a means to satisfy certain physical needs

Where I would see a woman, vulnerable and brave.

You see a means to satisfy certain biological drives

Where I would see a curious, mischievous child.

You see - a means to slake a thirst

Where I would see a warming cup of cafe au lait.

A human perceives the world as being made up of people

Which exist and have value in themselves in themselves.

A psychopath perceives the world as being made up of objects,

Which might satisfy certain needs for him.

This is what makes the psychopath so very dangerous.

For in just the casual way you might discard

An unsatisfying cup of cafe au lait.

So you could discard

An unsatisfying lover.

Or child.

Of course this is rubbish.

I couldn’t discard a person...

And then names and faces surface in my mind:

The scores of ex-girlfriends

I no longer speak to.

Then the doctor says to me:

In the past, our only treatment option

For dangerous psychopaths like yourself

Has been sectioning, confinement to a secure treatment centre

And long term sedation.

Thankfully, Mr Jones

- Rob -

Biotechnology has offered you

Another way.

And he takes from his drawer

A bottle of pills.

He says: Rob, these pills

Will help you see things

As they really are.

I say to him: can that be legal?

He says, not generally no.

But luckily for you

This treatment option

Is receiving final stage testing

In the Cardiff district.

I take the pills.

I look at them.

I put them back down on his desk.

I say to him:

What if I don’t want to take them?

Well, he says: that’s your choice.

I count it a grave personal failure

When I’m forced to section a patient

And have them strapped down, and carried off

To a facility with very peaceful, calming views of the countryside.

I pick up the bottle.

And I get up to go.

Take one now, the doctor says.

I can feel the big guy has moved towards me

He’s standing so close behind me now I can feel

The warmth of his body

And I can’t quite believe it but -

- he’s going to grab me if I make

Anything like a false move.

And the doctor says: thank you, Rob.

Thank you for sparing us both.

I turn and the big guy has vanished

So I run to the car and sit there

Expecting convulsions or hair sprouting from strange places and

Nothing happens.

So I drive home.

And I do, you know:

All those everyday things you do

With your much-loved girlfriend

While you’re waiting for the quasi-legal

Mind-altering substance you’ve been force-fed by the state

To begin to fuck you up in some appreciable way.

And still nothing happens.

Just our lives.

Karen asks if there’s anything up and

Obviously I don’t tell her.

We sit the whole evening watching the telly.

She’s giving me sidelong glances every five minutes

Not saying anything because I’ve said there’s nothing

So at about ten she suggests we go to bed and

Maybe watch a tape, and what this means is

Put on a video from that recently repainted shop on Mill Lane

Because the problem with trying for a baby, of course

Is that it turns sex

Into this very functional kind of activity and -

- I’m not saying I lost interest.

I’m just saying I was

A little less interested than previously.

Then Karen suggested that we go out and

Buy a load of hardcore and watch it together and maybe that would

Somehow make it feel dirty again.

And that did the trick.

As it obviously fucking would.

But tonight she puts the tape on and

There’s this fucking huge guy, who looks I’d say Mediterranean

He’s taking this woman from behind

And she’s crying out in what’s I think an East European accent

‘That hurts, but I like it!’

It’s having an effect on us:

I mean I’m aware we’re both squirming around a bit

But then it starts to bother me:

Images on a screen

Plug in to some ancient part of the brain

And then the hormones pump and the brain is

Circumvented entirely and we’re just like -

- fucking animals?

This is how we’re going to make a baby?

A new life, that we’re going to I don’t know nurture together?

It’s going to be the most important thing we ever do together

And it starts with porn.

For fuck’s sake.

I turn off the tape.

And we lie there for a bit.

We hold each other.

We cuddle up tight,

My arms folded round her.

And we drift off to sleep for a bit,

And it’s nice, you know, and then

We wake up a couple of hours later,

All sleepy and sweaty and dog-breathed

And we do it. We have fuck that manages

At the same time to be making love.

Then we fall asleep again.

I wake in the morning.

And I’ve slept right through the night.

I can hear Karen, singing in the shower.

And I get up.

I go to my jacket.

And I pull out the bottle of pills.

And I take my second dose.

Karen comes out of the shower.

And we make love again.

So then she has to go back into the shower

And I go with her

And fuck her once more - for luck.

By then of course I’m the latest I’ve ever been for work.

And as I turn the key, I realise the car’s running on fumes

And I’m going to have to stop at the garage

Usually that’s the kind of thing that would get me stressed

But - this morning.

After that night.

I just take my time.

I don’t start getting agitated when the elderly gent in front of me

Takes his sweet time wandering across the forecourt

And paying for his fuel.

I smile at him, even, as he ambles back,

Gets into his rattling Volvo

And finally trundles away.

I pull up to the petrol pump,

I get out of my car.

I pick up the nozzle and there’s this sound.

A whistling. Or a wailing.

And it seems like it’s coming from the petrol nozzle.

And first I think it’s just the wind whistling,

Like the way wind makes a whistling noise

Across the top of the bottle -

- I think it’s just the wind doing that

Over the nozzle.

But there is no wind.

There’s just this wailing sound coming from

Inside the nozzle.

A wailing sound.

Which could be



But clearly can’t be.

And I realise I’m standing on a garage forecourt

With the petrol nozzle held to my ear

And people are staring at me.

Unsurprisingly enough.

So I pay and when I do I find I’ve got no cash.

I stop just past the Black Lion and run out to the bank.

And waiting for the machine I see

An old woman

Coming slowly up the road.

And she’s got a blanket and a dog

And I realise: she’s going to plonk herself down

Next to the machine and guilt trip everyone for change

So there’s a guy at the machine and a woman after him

And then me, and so I’m hoping that maybe

I can pull out my cash and be gone

But of course the guy at the machine has multiple cards.

He has mini-statements to order, and examine, and think about.

He has extractions to make from one account, and deposits to another.

And so the old lady has plenty of time.

And she gets to us.

And walks past me.

And stops in front of the woman

Who is before me in the queue

And this old lady starts pleading with her in

I don’t know, French but some weird dialect or patois.

And the woman ignores her completely.

The old lady gets really worked up and

She’s screaming now

To the woman

For help. Or something.

And the woman.

She takes out a pair of earphones from her pocket.

And shoves them into her ears.

And reaches into her pocket.

And switches on a Walkman.

It’s Radiohead, I think.

And the old lady, all the shouting and effort

It’s given her some kind of seizure.

She collapses onto the floor.

The dog runs around her, licking her face

And the woman

Reaches into her pocket.

Fiddles with her Walkman.

Turns the music up louder.

Then pulls out her card,

And takes her turn at the machine

While the old lady spasms at her feet.

I’m incredibly late when I get in.

No-one really makes a fuss about it

So I just slink into my cubicle and

Try and get on with things and

What I notice first

Is the smell.

And then the - whimpering, I suppose.

I slide my chair back from my desk

So I can see down the length of the office.

And crawling towards the girls at the far end

Is a child.

He’s naked.

There’s a wound or something, on his thigh

His right thigh, and the whole of his right leg

Is just limp, and

There are toes missing.

His face is a skull.

His skin is shrunk around his bones

But his belly is swollen.

He’s crawling towards the girls.

He reaches Viv and

Slumps down, gurgles at her feet, and she

Gets up, walks over to the water cooler.

Fills a cup.

The boy turns and drags himself over to Maureen

Tugs at the hem of her skirt

And she stands, and goes to the sink, and switches on the kettle

And Viv wanders over to join her.

The child begins to sob

And they start talking, giggling, loud enough to drown him out.

The boy

Slumps, face down in the carpet.

Pulls himself up.

Begins to crawl again, towards Viv and Maureen

And Maureen is lifting the kettle,

Pouring water into a cup,

And the boy reaches them,

Throws his arms around Maureen’s leg and clings to her

And Maureen staggers and

Spills the boiling water all over him

And he writhes, and screams.

And Maureen says, oh, shit.

And Viv says, you’re still drunk from last night, you twat.

And the boy stops moving

And falls silent,

And I say, don’t you think you should do something?

Maureen says, yes, fine.

And picks up her phone, and dials,

And says, hi. Can we have a cleaner on floor 5, please?

I’m afraid I’ve just managed to spill a kettle full of water.

They shout after me, but I keep walking.

I get in the lift and press the button for ground

But when the lift moves it doesn’t glide, it jerks,

Like the rope is being - let out

So I get out. I run down the stairs,

I run to the basement and there

Straining against the steel ropes

Are a gang of - I don’t know -

Filipinos. Twenty of them. Letting the line out,

Hauling it back up. I can smell the steel

Burning through their hands.

As I’m watching, one of them collapses.

His team-mates kick him aside

And a guy, another Filipino, crawls out of the air duct

And takes up his place on the line.

I run. I run for my car. As I’m running down the road

I pass a coffee shop and I glance in

And at that moment the door to the kitchen swings open

To let a waiter through and in the kitchen

I see a man, leather skin and dark hair

And there’s a short order chef with a blow torch,

Lightly charring the man’s skin

And a waitress with a butter knife, scraping off the ash

Collecting it into a tin.

A tin which is labelled, quality instant coffee.

I drive through hills and between them valleys,

And in the valley below me is a tarpaulin city

Tents stretching further than I can see

A fighter bomber swoops and its targeting laser

Picks out one of the ten thousand families

And the precision munition falls free,

And the family hear it coming, and start to run

They make it halfway across the valley floor,

Shouting to a group of labourers digging up the road.

The targeting laser tracks them as they run,

Snapping off as the bomb hits.

There is a flash, and a thumping noise,

And then a JCB stirs itself from the roadworks,

Turns, and scoops up the dust that remains,

And tips it over the newly-laid utility line.

I get home. There’s no-one around.

I run up the stairs: there’s noise in our bedroom.

I go in: and Karen is there, under the duvet.

She freezes, and then sees it’s me, and smiles.

I guess you’ve caught me out, she says.

She throws back the covers, and

Her hand is between her legs.

On the telly this woman is saying

In some East European voice

That it hurts

But she likes it

And I see

That the lead at the back of the telly

Is not connected to the video.

The lead to our telly

Runs right out of the bedroom

And down the hall.

I hear Karen saying, Rob?

I follow the lead.

It goes downstairs.

It goes out through a kitchen window.

It goes out into the garden.

It goes into the garage.

I open the garage door and see

That the lead connects to a video camera

A man is operating the video camera.

In front of the camera

There is a man, a huge guy, Mediterranean,

And he’s taking this woman from behind,

And she’s saying, in an East European voice,

That it hurts, but she likes it.

And she is looking at

A small boy

Who is standing just out of shot

Maybe four, or five.

The boy is tied to my workbench

And standing next to the boy

Is a bald guy

And the bald guy has my pruning shears

He has the blades of my pruning shears

Around the little finger

Of the kid’s left hand.

The bald guy is saying to the woman:

Show us more.

Show us even more than that.

And Karen says, honey,

What the fuck is wrong with you?

And I step aside to let her see.

And she says, what?

She says, it’s a mess, but so what?

We’ll clean it up this weekend.

And I -

- pick up my old cricket bat.

And take Karen by the hand.

I lead her into the house.

And I tell her

You have to be made to see.

I get the pills from my jacket.

I tell her, honey, you have to be made

To see things

As they really are

So now take one of these pills, and

You’ll get what I’m talking about.

And she says, and if I don’t, then what?

If I don’t, what are you going to do

With that cricket bat?

I say honey, please just take the pill.

Please don’t make me

Do anything with this cricket bat.

And she takes the pill.

I relax.

And straight away Karen snatches up the bat.

And hits me over the head, repeatedly,

Until I fall unconscious.

The charges were against me were dropped, of course.

Once it became apparent what I had suffered.

We’re not doing this for the money.

The money will be nice, obviously.

The money will be a great comfort, but -

I don’t think it will be too long before the investigation

Uncovers a financial link between him and the drug company

And that’s bad enough.

But you see the thing that really shook me -

He made me believe I was less than human.

Some kind of moral cripple.

Like I would just stand there and

Breezily get on with my day while fucking

You know: the Holocaust happened.

And all I was feeling was

A bit... uninvolved, somehow.

I know it’s an emergency surgery but I did not

Say or do anything to give him cause to think I was

In an emergency situation.

There was nothing to justify what he did.

I was just feeling like we all do.